Last summer at the VONA publishing panel, one of the participants asked the faculty what they thought of hiring professional editors, Junot Diaz, responded quickly, sweeping his hand around the room at the other eighty or so writers in the VONA week, "Look, you have your community right here, the best editors, the best help..."
Those words resonated as I struggled with a moment in my book, a plot moment. If I changed something in the plot, everything would shift. I was nervous, trying to work my way around it. I took the pages to the breakfast buffet and sat in a corner with my copy staring at the scene. One by one, my colleagues arrived and I tucked my pages in my purse and joined the morning ritual conversation. How did we sleep? How is your stomach? Isn't this wind great? Did you have a good walk? Of course, from there we became as Tiziana says more profondo. More about where we grew up, what was going on with our writing.
Lauri mentioned she had to work today, her plot was in a mess. I seized the moment and put my problem to the table. Would my character do this?
They asked questions about her and I tried to give a profile of sorts.
The answers were in agreement. Yes, she would. Excellent reasons followed. I was relieved. I didn't know how many more hours I would have puzzled over this moment, this tiny moment in the course of the book that would be a blip, but also would be a memorable aspect of the character and the situation.
The amount I rely on others in my writing is profondo. Tony Khalife is my major research source for all things Lebanon and the Civil War. The internet is my library as I look at photos and key events. I pore over maps, satellite pictures, real estate ads, terrains, outlines. Fashion, music, trends of my characters' period. What airline route would be taken? How would she get to New York from Stamford? What would she see out the window of the New Haven Line?
And how many friends have looked at and listened to pieces of this book with their perspective, their insight?
I always maintain I need solitude to write, that I'm not relational, don't need a huge social life. Which is true. I am a minimalist in daily contact: friend, sister, dog, husband and others sprinkled in here and there. When I break from the teaching life, both Mills and the Y, the focus becomes narrow and selfish. I want to write, hike, write, hike, write.
But in the labor of the book, I have had to throw the net out and gather the help I need. I feel like an architect who can plan the house, but needs help building it. The gifted people around me are sensitive enough to give thoughtful and useful answers, to go on intuition and reason.
Using Junot's advice, I walked away from breakfast ready to do what the book needed. Everyone went off to their own work, to their silence and solitude, knowing, I hope, that we are here to help each other along the way.
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports