Black Dots on the Page

When I was a kid, I wanted to play the piano. I figured that I could sit down in front of it and just play. It didn’t matter that at the time that I didn’t know how to read music, I just knew that I wanted to play….and it would be amazing and everyone would be in awe at my talent…
Really, not much has changed since I was seven…
Much like when I sat at the piano all those years ago, I figured that when I went to write my novel, it would all sort of work its way out. Even though I knew that I was facing my insecurities, I trusted that there would be some inner wisdom to show me away.  Of course, it doesn’t help that I didn’t start with a short story or a novel. 
No, my brain child is a four-book series arc.
Thus, to say that it has been a pretty crazy couple of weeks, would probably be an understatement. The work life and the school life clashed like a 1980s florescent yellow sweatshirt and paisley purple pants.  I think that I’m still recovering.
I’ve done so much writing lately, that my shoulder/back/arm has rebelled causing me some numbness and stiffness in the arm where I do most of my writing and mouse work. I’ve moved the mouse to the left hand and have seen the physiotherapist, but, it has certainly made me realize that my body does not like the pace I’ve been working under and I must figure out a better way to do it. 
It is unbelievable to me that I’m half way through the first semester. I’m feeling a bit burned out. Mostly because I don’t think that I’ve had a break for about four months, and a person needs rest and sometimes, bad T.V. isn’t going to cut it.
It has been an amazing experience thus far though. Receiving feedback from my faculty advisor has been everything that I hoped it to be because I really needed it. I wanted to know what was wrong with my writing, so that I could fix it. I’ve always known that my grammar was never my strong suit – it was one of the reasons that I never thought that I could write.
 I think, though, the problem isn’t just that I sucked at grammar (oh and spelling too, I’m going to admit that as well*) but that I never had someone show me how to do it properly. And, maybe I just didn’t care enough. Which, I know, is awful and the Grammar Gods are probably going to shoot an exclamation point down and hit me in the head, but it is the truth.
Now, however, I care. I feel stupid and ignorant when I do something that to other people seems easy.
It isn’t just the grammar though; it is about figuring out the pieces of my writer self that I didn’t know. I’m so excited to be learning about writing. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to learn about writing. 

But I wonder:  Am I progressing? Am I getting better? Mid-terms are coming up and I’m really wondering if I’ve improved at all.
I hope so.
So, this is the thing that I’ve learned most about my creative process thus far, I need to write to process. I am a big concept thinker, so, when I come up with a story the themes are grand and the situations are conceptual. After allowing it to walk with me, formulate expressions and ideas, then I sit with pen in hand.  When I start writing, I let myself figure out the story. Much of the time, I’m figuring out what is going to happen next, but letting myself write what happens next. 

I always knew that my problem was plot. I recognize the feeling as “boredom” or “laziness” but it isn’t. I think it is psychologically something that I don’t want to deal with. I think that it means committing to a path. Allowing other ideas and concepts that I think are “oh so cool” to float away for another day. Maybe this is “first novel writing syndrome?”
I have no idea.  

Weirdly, when I go to write an essay, in theory, I probably start the same way. However, I’ve had twenty years of essay writing experience behind me, so, I know that I take my big grand concept and let it stew a little; allowing the thesis statement to formulate quietly and then I sit with pen in hand and figure out the right statement.  I do a rough outline and start writing, again pen in hand. (Perhaps that is why my arm hurts so much.  Maybe it is muscle strengthening for future years of writing instead of repetitive strain?)  I sometimes go off the rails, but, other times, as I’m writing, a better idea emerges and I go with it.
In one of my recent papers, I started with the idea of looking at the Diary as form of the first person narrative, but, as I was writing the first draft, I thought about the history of women’s writing and women’s diaries as a part of the construction of the first person narrative and a new kind of paper was born. I think it turned out to be a much more interesting paper than what I started with.
So, back to my four-book series arc – it needs some structure.  It probably just needs me to remember that like when I learned how to play the piano, I need to know where “Middle C” was, what the difference was between the black and white keys, and, how to read all those dots on the page.


*I blame this on the fact that I learned three languages at once when I was a kid. But, there are only so many things that I can blame on Hebrew School…

About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
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2 Responses to Black Dots on the Page

  1. Melissa says:

    I find that my grammar is decent, but my ability to spell has devolved over the years from relying on spell check. When I was a kid, my mom would just tell me to look up the word in a dictionary, and I do that now – I have an app for that on my mac – but when I was a kid it was a much easier process. Learning the proper spelling for "learn" (for example) is much easier than some of the words I'm trying to look up now. Seeing the "could not be found" phrase is very discouraging at times.Good luck with your writing, Mel. If you keep plugging away at it, I'm sure that you'll find your way. 🙂

  2. Melanie says:

    Thanks, Melissa. It is a process. 🙂

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