Today is my writing day. I’ve been looking forward to the kind of alone time writing affords me all week, and it’s only Thursday! This week has been an unpleasant news week; as expected, bin Laden’s death is already leading to some controversy. It has also been an exhausting work week; I’ve been conferencing with my composition students individually, and the meetings have been at times insightful and stressful (as some of them are worried about their final grades). On Friday I have to move some personal stuff out of my old office so that a colleague can start using it in the fall; this means moving… again. Moving has been the story of my life these last two months and especially these last two weeks. I’ve been longing to write about my new neighborhood — Eastern Market — and about the interesting tool-related projects I’ve been working on at home. I’ve become quite the handyman, complete with a toolbox and measuring tape, and I’ve become surprisingly skilled with an electric drill. I’m learning though that fixing a place up will be an on-going process, not a one-weekend deal. Today, I will turn off the TV, Facebook, and email, and put away the hammer, the drill, and the extension cord, and focus on the phases of writing fiction.
Yes, I know I should be blogging about Cinco de Mayo, and correcting all who still think it is Mexico’s Independence Day. It isn’t. That day is celebrated on September 16th. Today is merely the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, where the Mexicans were victorious over the French. The day has turned into a celebration of Mexican (and Latino?) heritage in the United States, especially in the Southwest, but also in Mexican restaurants and cantinas in D.C. Later this afternoon, I’ll be meeting with Couchsurfing friends to celebrate at our weekly gathering (this month we meet at Nellie’s). Before I meet up with them, I will spend many hours writing some fiction. Delving into my imagination can sometimes be like playing a sudoku game. It helps me sort out some things. By focusing on a character, putting him into some trouble, and exploring ways he can meet his challenges and go about getting what he wants in his life, I can forget about the news, my work, and home projects for a moment, so that when I do return to all of that, I can feel refreshed.
Lately, I’ve been playing with one story in particular: a flash fiction piece (under 1,000 words) of a recurring character named Tom who goes on a bad date. Tom’s story has been rejected a few times, so I need to look at it more critically. I like the story a lot, and I’d like to see it published, so criticism is vital at this point (if self-criticism can be completely possible). One of my professors at Johns Hopkins used to say that the writing process can be divided into three identity phases: the madman, the judge, and the carpenter. The madman phase is when the writer is inspired with a story idea and writes non-stop all the stuff that’s in his/her head. Getting the story on paper is the primary goal of this phase. The judgment phase forces the writer to look critically at what he/she has written so that editorial decisions can be made. The carpenter phase is when the edits are made, cut away, added on, and nailed into place. I’ve gone through all three phases with Tom’s story, so I am introducing a fourth phase: the “inspector” phase. In this phase, I will tap the beams (the structure of the story), check for leaks (any holes in the narrative arch), and test the electric (the relationship dynamics between the characters) to make sure they’re all in order. As I said, I’ve become quite the handyman, so the inspector phase is in keeping with where my mind has been lately. Thinking about my well-used toolbox may actually be helpful here after all.