Another day at Varuna
Robin Mizell suggested that I write about what I am doing this week at Varuna. Thanks for this idea, Robin—otherwise, it’s easy to forget all this once I’m back home.
In my last post, I listed 4 goals for the week. Now I realise how short a week is. Here’s my progress so far.
- Goal 1: Re-read, evaluate and rewrite my early stories: Yes
I picked one of my earliest stories and started overhauling it. It was a surprise to discover how much more I know about fiction writing since I wrote it. There were some glaring errors and infelicities, but I still like the plot and the main character. Prognosis: There’s still a heartbeat to this story so I have it in ICU now and am working to improve it.I read through previous drafts of this story and found material that I like, but had removed because various members of my writing group (now defunct) suggested this. The discovery underlines how important it is to develop for yourself a sense of what works and what doesn’t. I’m sure every writer has had that sinking feeling of reading out a work in a writing group, then someone pipes up with something like ‘I don’t like your character’s name’ or ‘crickets cannot creak in the grass; they chirp‘. (I still dream of being in a productive, supportive and thoughtfully critical writing group.)
- Goal 2: Draft a new story: Not yet
Tomorrow I’ll look through my list of possible stories and see if anything jumps out at me.
- Goal 3: Write in my journal each day: Not yet
I haven’t restarted my journal, but I am writing each day. (Not writing at Varuna is almost impossible.) I love using what for me is the best time of the day, early morning, to draft or redraft at one setting—no interruptions, no breaks. This slab of time lets me keep the whole story in my head as I edit. Now, how can I make the same thing happen when I’m back home?
- Goal 4: Get material ready to enter comps: Almost there
Yes, I now have a story now that I will stop tinkering with and send to a comp. When I’m back home, I’ll proofread, tidy layout, and print off a good copy so that I can respond when I see a relevant comp.
- Woke up at 6am, made a cup of chai, and started rewriting the draft I’ve been working on all week.
- Stopped around 8am, wandered downstairs and made breakfast, then returned to my room to write.
- A short break mid-morning to look at my emails, blog, Twitter and Facebook. Back to my room and changed gears, moving on to redraft one of my early short story attempts. I had been dreading doing this but found I was enjoying it.
- Lunch, then sat out in the sun for a half-hour with the draft. Made notes and thought through some issues.
- Early afternoon. Took myself away from the computer: Went to the gym to do weights, then to the library to pick up Sara Paretsky’s new V. I. Warshawski novel, Hardball, plus William Trevor’s book of stories, Cheating at Canasta.
- Afternoon, back at Varuna. Joined the four other writers for the daily discussion about writing. This is not a usual part of a writing week here but is part of this special Community Week.
The difference on this, the last ‘community’ day, is that each of us read out to our audience. We were asked to choose an excerpt from a work in progress. It is daunting to present strangers with a rough draft rather than a polished piece. However, I enjoyed it, plus the work of the four other people I’ve been living with this week. I also enjoyed the discussion, about the choices and issues writers deal with while writing.
Read out part of my short story, State of Grace. It’s about a small-town farmer, trapped in convention until his life changes when he starts caring for his nephew. Today I realised it is not a ‘Kansas’ story, even though it is set in Kansas, but a ‘family’ story, about familial ties, love, and custom.
Writer Carol Joyce Oates writes that the local and regional voice of a writer can also be a ‘universal voice’. I take this to mean that we may place our story locally, but its themes can resonate with readers world-wide.
- Late afternoon, back in my room, writing. Then went downstairs to enjoy the log fire and a glass of wine with the others. We talked about writing and other topics until Sheila, the caterer, served dinner. Tonight it was chicken and lamb curries, with pappadams, etc. More talk at the table, a good chance to unwind. Afterwards, we cleared the table, loaded up the dishwasher, and put things in the fridge. Then everyone vanished back to their rooms.
- Now, at 9pm, I’ll work more on that early story until I’m too tired to look at the screen.