My therapist tells me that all things in the history of my scanner brain are bringing me to a confluence. I’m a 5 on the Enneagram, and that means I’m great at pulling crazy things together and making something new out of it. Up till now I’ve been mostly gathering. Maybe I still am.
There have been many times in my life as an artist when I looked at the piece of art I was making and decided it was garbage and consigned it, literally, to the trash heap.
But they weren’t novels.
But there were other times, especially when I was painting oils, that my wonderful painting teacher told me it was okay to blot out that lovely perfect eye that was in the wrong place and paint over it. She even took the paintbrush from me and painted over that perfect horse’s eye and told me “go again.”
Life is art. Whoever told you there are no do-overs is totally wrong.
So yesterday, when I felt like the 37,000 words I’d written on my novel were absolute garbage that I didn’t even care about, I already knew the answer to that problem: Just Keep Swimming. You can’t edit what you haven’t written. Get to the end of the first draft, then go back and fix all the things that need fixing. I really was getting discouraged. I thought the whole project needed to go.
And then, I wrote Murphy into the story. If I write the sequel to this novel, he will be a main character, but in this story you just get a glimpse of him. And I love him. He made me realize that all the other characters thus far are cardboard cutouts next to him, maybe (horrors) even my protagonist.
Here’s a glimpse, in which my intrepid protagonist is hiding in the closet hoping “Billy” doesn’t discover her and her mates:
“Mmn,” Murphy grunted. He never once looked in our direction. “You know, my shift doesn’t start for another six hours. And I beat Green at cards last night and he owes me a flask. Tell ye what, if you’ll go get it from him, I’ll share it with you.”
I heard the man’s bunk creak but I couldn’t see him. “Yeah?”
“Yeh,” Murphy said, reaching out and tapping his empty whiskey bottle. “I’m out, and that’s a thing I can’t stand. But it’s dark and I don’t feel like walking over there.”
There was a short silence. “You never share your whiskey.”
Murphy, whose voice had been soft through all of the conversations I’d heard from him thus far, thundered, “MAYBE I’M FEELIN GENEROUS!”
“Jesus,” the other man muttered. “Fuckin’ crazy Mick.”
Murphy shrugged. “Your choice.”
“Fine,” Billy grumbled. The bunk creaked again and I saw him get up and pull his boots on. Then he headed toward the closet. “Where you goin?” demanded Murphy.
“To get my coat. It’s cold out there.” I heard two other tiny sharp intakes of breath as all three of us in the closet caught ours, quietly.
“Ye fookin pansy,” Murphy muttered. “I’ll get yer damned coat.”
“What the hell have you got in the closet that I’m not supposed to see, Murphy?” I felt Emmanuel’s big hand clamp down on my arm and I felt him brace to fight, if he had to.
“Best ye doont know, Billy. Ye’d have to tell and then I’d have to kill ye.”
The door cracked open and he wisecracked, loudly, “Shoosh, love, don’t make a sound now, I’ll pay ye as soon as he’s gone.”
There was a hearty guffaw from the room. “I don’t know how you managed that, you bastard. Captain Briggs catches you, he’ll have your left nut.”
“Good thing he woont, then. Go along now, Pansy boy, the whiskey’s waitin.” He threw the man’s coat at him.
“And if I drink it before I get back?”
“I’ll shit in yer boots.”
“Filthy mouthed damned Mick,” the man muttered, and the door slammed.
The bad news is, I am definitely a character-first writer, so if my characters are crap, my novel is crap. The good news is, I know how to go back and make them better. Dory has it right. The answer to art is the answer to life.
Just keep writing.
Just keep painting.
Just keep swimming.