Today I like: Harris Teeter
Not so much: The Pig
A rainbow followed me to school a few weeks ago. Not one of those wussy splotches of abstract color against a leftover cloud, but a full on, horizon-to-horizon band of red, orange, green, blue, purple. The kind of rainbow you probably drew as a kid, all the while hoping your fat Crayola marker didn’t run out of ink before you finished that all important red band. Maybe you added a pot of gold at one end or unicorn capering beneath the purple stripe.
My kids tracked the color from the car windows, and inevitably my five-year-old son asked, “Why is it following us?”
I explained that we were following it, chasing the rainbow over the bridges of Charleston.
I noticed something about this particular rainbow, however, that didn’t quite match up with my memories of childhood doodle pads. Although it reached from one end of town to the other, in the middle, it got…fuzzy.
Like, I wouldn’t have had to worry about my marker running out of ink, because my rainbow would have been more realistic if it had gone pale in the middle.
I was chatting with a friend the other day, and he mentioned that he had problems organizing his thoughts on paper. He was referring to writing legal opinions (or some such legal something-or-other that is way off my radar screen) but I still told him to try focus on this idea: Beginning, middle, end.
I follow that pattern when I write anything, and I think it holds true for any written communication, from letters to academic writing to short stories to longform fiction. Beginning, middle, end.
It’s the middle, however, that usually gives me (and a lot of writers I know) the most trouble. You know where you’ve been, and you know where you want to go, but how do you get there?
I need to pick up my unfinished manuscript, the third book and conclusion to The Cracked Slipper. I’m in the middle, and I haven’t worked on it in roughly six months. My first case of writer’s block, something I thought only happened to other people. Jokes on me, hahaha, because I’ve realized you throw in some major life changes, and eeeeert! Creativity, stop.
So now I’m looking at an incomplete first draft of my manuscript and thinking to myself, where the hell was I going with this? What was my initial logic? I know where I want to end up, and I have a pretty solid beginning… but wait, who are these freaking new people? And places? And why are my old friends doing what they’re doing?
I can compare this pattern in the rainbow and in writing to life in general. When you start down a path, make some choice, you often have a sense of urgency. You know where you’re going… and you can see how it will all end up. Then you get in the middle of it, the reality, and everything gets muddled. The colors that kept you hopeful become muted and sometimes they fade away to smears of light. The people and places and motives around you seem a bit confounding.
But, I think, middles need flexibility. If you’re writing, you have the luxury of going back and changing your argument or your plot details and character motivations. In life, we can’t rewrite, but we can always adjust. Figure out new ways to make the colors bright again, and get back on the path.
The connection between the beginning and the end of the rainbow is still there. You’re following the same curve.
I took pictures of that rainbow and sent it to some friends who were going through ups and downs at the time. It took me a few more weeks, and some intimidating sessions in front of my computer, to realize that I could conquer that manuscript… and what’s more, I really want to. It might take longer to find the bright colors than it did with my previous novels, but the urge to work again is the biggest hurdle. I’ll get where I need to be.
Beginning, middle, end.