Fess Up Friday – The Challenge

First of all, thank you all so much for the comments left on my previous post. I truly intended to write to each and every one of you and I think this is the first time I’ve missed responding to your comments, but between returning from Boston and numerous home-purchasing chores I decided instead to move forward with the Fess Up Friday challenge instead, onwards and upwards being my motto these days. So, the challenge is to post one paragraph from your current work in progress you feel particularly happy with, and one you aren’t pleased with, and then to discuss the writing process, to the best of your recollection, behind each. I’ll run this challenge for the next several days and next Thursday post those who participated on this blog, so if you participate please email me or leave a note here in the comments and I will make sure you are included in Thursday’s publication. This is the first of what I hope to be a series of challenges for those of us writing. Oh, no context necessary – this is meant to inspire a discussion about the PROCESS, not the WORK.

My Submission:

One paragraph which pleases me:

We stopped playing at that point. The thunder was coming closer. We gathered together and stared at the sky, mesmerized by the sight of black, heavy clouds. My mom held Patrick close to her body, and my dad draped a protective arm around me while the boys, with the exception of Joel, began placing bets on when the rain would start. We stood, in the middle of that makeshift baseball field, like some magnetic force kept us there, when all reasonable people would have headed for shelter. We stood there until the sky broke open and the rain rushed forth – and then we screamed like banshees. Michael, Brian, Ben, Joel and Doug ripped off their sweat-stained t-shirts and ran around the bases, jumping up and down, lifting their arms to the rain. Pepper grabbed my hands and swung me around in circles while my mom balanced Patrick in one arm and her drink in the other. She lifted her glass to the sky, and Pepper continued to hold me by one hand and lifted hers as well, and my dad and Jake did the same, and we danced in the rain, letting in soak us through, replenishing all we’d lost over the last several weeks. At one point, Ben grabbed my free hand and quickly we all formed a circle and began spinning around, laughing – laughing – laughing – practically pagan with worship. Later, after everybody dried off, our families sat together on the covered porch of our cabin and watched the storm move across the sky. Joel sat on one side of me, humming some incomprehensible tune, which he explained would be a song about the storm, and Ben sat on the other, his arm swung casually around me, and I felt different, like I was no longer the girl I once was, but not yet sure who I would turn out to be.

One (okay, two, because they go together) paragraphs I find highly unsatisfactory:

I could feel the tug, those first few rainy July days, the whispers skirting across my mind before shaking my head, pulling myself away from what my dad coined the murmurs from the silent room, because that is how he thought of his post traumatic stress disorder, like a hundred thousand murmurs slipping beneath the door of a room you know is supposed to be empty and you can’t help yourself, even though you’ve been told not to open the door, even though you logically know nothing is behind the door that you want to tangle with, you can’t help yourself, you go to the door and you open it and then there you are, keeping company with a whole bunch of craziness no one can see but you.

We all fall. This much I know. Some fall towards crutches like alcohol and cigarettes, others towards organized religion, still others into the abyss of what ifs. My falling always felt a continuous news reel spinning wildly out of control in my head, and was always preceded by the flying night terrors I had. Every time I found myself on the other side of the attacks, I swore they wouldn’t happen again, that next time I would recognize the signs or symptoms and fight them off, but eleven years after the first attack, even in the supposed sanctity of my father’s cabin, I found myself fighting off the vicious heart pounding, the cold sweats and the terribly vicious mind games I was capable of playing with myself.

First of all, I have no clue why the font changed but whatever, I am a very busy woman and don’t have time to worry my pretty little head about wordpress’ formatting issues. A-hem. So, the first paragraph. This graph is from Chapter Four of my novel, and to date it remains the chapter I had both the most fun writing and felt the saddest during. Thinking about it, I doubt there was even what could be called a process for this chapter…I felt swept up in. FINALLY Anna meets Ben for the first time. FINALLY the whole story can start moving along (which does not bode well for my first three, does it?) I knew, graph by graph, line by line, what needed to happen, knew it instinctively, knew I was finally introducing the characters who would form the rest of the novel. And while my novel is autobiographical in terms of PLACE, it isn’t overly so in terms of EXPERIENCE, but the old adage “write what you know” does seem to hold true, and while I didn’t experience the above scene with my characters (obviously) I did experience the breaking of a drought after a long, dry summer and so writing about it came easily. Now that I think about it, the entire first act of my novel came to me fairly easily and it is now, in the messy messy middle act, that I find myself floundering. So this paragraph pleases me because I finally set up the relationship between Anna and Ben, and I writing with both confidence and knowledge.

As for the graphs I’m not particularly happy with? They were fairly recently written and I haven’t been able to “be” in my novel every day, or really, regularly at all. What’s more, I’m trying to say in several sentences which ideally should be said in only one or two, and I know this is caused by my lack of knowledge on panic attacks and post traumatic stress disorder. I am making assumptions based on my limited personal experience with anxiety and my even more limited knowledge of its hereditary causes. The truth is I NEED Anna to experience these feelings but I’m not sure in the context of the story whether they are realistic or not. I am also a very linear person and cannot skip to the parts of the novel I know for sure, and instead force myself through the vaguaries and gray areas relentlessly, and finding myself quite dissatisfied while doing so.

This weekend I am going to read my novel from beginning to where it stands now, without revising a thing, which will be enormously difficult, and proceed. I’m over the half-way point – it’s time to do this thing.

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11 Responses to Fess Up Friday – The Challenge

  1. Courtney, count me in. I need to proceed too. Thank you for the much-needed prod.

    The first paragraph is lovely. So alive. I love how Anna feels changed, but is not sure why.

    The second two are very moving. I like the “hundred thousand murmurs slipping beneath the door”. Perhaps you’ll find as you move forward that ideas will come as to how to tackle your grey areas when you redraft.

  2. Pingback: A Writing Challenge « Charlotte’s Web

  3. Pete says:

    Courtney, love the writing. Very powerful and moving. On the anxiety issue, I think that anxiety is maybe slightly different for everyone. Those names (PTSD, Panic Attacks) are really convenient labels rather than truly “scientific” conditions. So I hear the frustration at not being sure whether you character’s experience rings true but I would want to say that there is no one “true” experience of PTSD or panic attacks. I think the important thing is that the symptoms don’t become too decontextualised. I would want to see your characters grappling with the full extent of their situations. Good luck and thanks for sharing.

  4. smithereens says:

    Definitely count me in. Loved your storm crazy party scene. Maybe I’ll only come up with a single sentence, but at least it’ll move things forward. Great challenge!

  5. laura says:

    I remember reading that rain scene. I loved that! I think my favorite paragraphs and scenes are usually the ones that I get swept up in, the ones that just fall straight out of my brain onto the paper. Wish it was always that easy 😉

    I’m still planning on doing this challenge – maybe I’ll get something together later tonight, since my child very obviously doesn’t nap anymore…

  6. Litlove says:

    Well, you write beautifully in both paragraphs I think. If you want the panic attack scene to be more graphic, I’d keep outside of her character more and have her project her anxiety onto what she sees around her. The main feature of panic attacks is that you lose yourself, oddly enough, to the onslaught of feelings of extreme loss of control. I think it’s difficult to write gracefully about them – probably more truthful to let your writing be ugly and disjointed or hysterical. But in any case, you have a wonderful start to work on there.

    And I must do this too! Only what people will make of academic writing, I do not know.

  7. Charlotte – that is my hope. I finally read through the whole thing from start to finish and I am nothing if not committed to the shitty first draft…I can’t wait to revise! But first, I need to finish…
    Pete – thanks! I think you are absolutely right, and the struggle needs to be very, very honest. I think some of the parts that come before these graphs achieve that, and others quite fail…
    Smithereens – I can’t wait to see what you share!
    Laura – I can’t wait to see what you are working on…it sounds like your novel is really coming along. There are no words for how much I miss our writing group!
    Litlove – I, for one, can’t wait to see what you share – all kinds of writing welcome in these challenges! And I think you are write about the panic attack scene. I need to concentrate on finishing this draft so I can return with a fresh eye and really work on the writing!

  8. Pingback: A Fessing Challenge « Tales from the Reading Room

  9. Pingback: Courtney’s Writing Challenge « Smithereens

  10. qugrainne says:

    The first paragraph is quite lovely; I could feel all of the emotions that run through it. I could see it unfolding before me.

    The second paragraph – did you realize it is one sentence? Rather a long sentence…. Maybe that is what you had in mind? I like it, especially the “murmurs slipping” but I would like it better with some breaks.

    The third paragraph:
    “We all fall. This much I know. Some fall towards crutches like alcohol and cigarettes, others towards organized religion, still others into the abyss of what ifs. My falling always felt a continuous news reel spinning wildly out of control in my head, and was always preceded by the flying night terrors I had.”

    To me this sounds like the person has control over “falling” into panic attacks, as one has a choice of alcohol and cigarettes. I don’t think anyone would or could choose panic attacks…

    My description of a panic attack would be almost like an out of body experience – rather like having a heart attack – and dieing and coming back to life. One does not feel control over anything in the midst of an attack.

  11. laura says:

    Sorry I’m so ungodly late with this! Here’s my challenge submission: http://lauraraeamos.com/2008/10/07/here-i-am-treading-on-your-brain/

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