Saturday, April 29, 2006

Gum is Coming Between Me and My Novel

A week or so ago I was complaining to Anders “Sherbet Dip Dop” Maclamity that I wasn’t seeing any interesting job listings. In response, Anders sent me one of the most frightening villanelles I’ve ever read, and certainly one that should not be sent to someone in the midst of an existential crisis.

But while reading the poem it suddenly hit me: a villanelle is very hard to write because each word weighs heavy. A novel, on the other hand, is full of words that don’t mean a thing. Maybe I could write a novel! After all, if Kaavya Viswanathan could do it, why couldn’t I?

I began my novel that very day. It started off very poetic and noir, and quickly disintegrated over the coming days into what at best could be called chick lit.

“Why, Moko,” sings the chorus, “couldn't you continue the earthquaking beauty of the first 2500 words through the next 45 pages?”

I’ll tell you why: Extra gum.

During my days as a NYC reporter covering salmon mortality rates, I discovered that gum was a great way to power myself through the day while writing about crap I could have cared less about. If I had a piece of gum in my mouth I could move mountains—or at least salmon statistics. But because I preferred sugarless gum to Bubbalicious, I changed pieces every few minutes in order to keep that sharp ting! that one feels when one first pops a piece of peppermint gum into the mouth.

Well, this technique worked fine when I was only having to crank out ½-1 page stories. With the novel writing, however, it’s just not working. I write two sentences. Change gum. Introduce a new character. Change gum. End a quote. Change gum. It’s kinda like watching MTV—but with gum instead of fast cuts set to pop punk.

My sentences have become shorter and more declarative as I aim to fit them in between one stick of gum and the next. I can’t work on plot or character development. In fact, I don’t even know what the book is about any more.

Five minutes ago, for example, my protagonist arrived in a new town. Did I write of the town’s azure sky? No, not quite. It was more like, “There was a town. She was in it.”

When this is done well you might come off like Hemmingway. When it’s not you come off like a second grader who has yet to learn how to connect two phrases.

Still, I’m plugging along. This morning between 9 and 10 a.m. I consumed 50 sticks of gum and wrote 3 pages of nonsense.

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Anonymous said...

Why don't you write about an orally-fixated gum chewer? The novel could write itself...while you chew gum.

Anonymous said...

so it would be like junkie lit?

litcrit 201 said...

don't feel bad: i think skies can't be azure anymore, anyway