So this year I made a goal not to procrastinate so much. It's a definite flaw of mine,putting things off. For instance, last year I unpacked several book boxes from when I moved. When did I move? Oh, four years ago. Yep.
My apartment has this funky 60's-70's closet in the living room. It's like a box with a hanger rod. It holds coats and canvas bags. It also became a Purse Cemetery; I found old purses that had movie stubs for Up and a Daniel Ellsberg documentary. There were several plastic boxes. I took the boxes and put them on my bed.
After the realization I had three winter coats (two more than I thought I did) two raincoats, several gloves that were missing its mate, and a Candy Land game I planned on giving my nephew for Christmas (oldest nephew, now his brother can get it) I went back in my room to sort out the boxes. Mostly it was old bills, birthday cards. The third box had a calico cat folder in it. I opened it out and found several short stories I wrote.
There's nothing more humbling for a writer than to see past work. Especially past work when you are trying to find your voice. It is as Anne Lamott said, trying on hats, figuring out what works for you. Do you want that baseball hat? Maybe a cloche hat works better for you. Try a pillbox. Or a beret! A beret is pretty cosmopolitan! Or you could go with the fedora. Or you can get artsy-Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie got whipped with the hats they wore at their cousin's wedding, but you have to admire the fact they stepped out of their comfort league,did something a tad different.
In my twenties I was starting to write about my teen years.I just wrote and wrote. I filled up notebooks, then I started to craft them into short stories. After a while, I started a novel. I spent seven years on it. There were tiny problems; the book had no plot. No plot at all. It was plotless, and I didn't know how to create a plot. I loved the characters, I did give them obstacles, but it didn't flow. People told me I was too hard on myself, so I took risks and sent the book out to agents. I was turned down. The consenus was I was a good writer. However, what did I lack? Plot. Plot became that four letter word, the p word. So I tried to read about plots. People stressed plot points, plot summaries, this hurt my little head. This was hard. Why was it hard? I didn't want it to be hard. There had to be an easier way to do this.
I read an interview with Ann Patchett, who said that everything she learned from plot was from 1972's The Poseidon Adventure. Aha! Now this I could do! I could learn from Irwin Allen's film somehow. I rented the movie, took out a notebook, then watched.
The basic plot of couse is this: on New Year's Eve passengers on the SS Poseidon are having a gay old time. They include: Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson going to meet their grandson. Police officer Ernest Borgnine and ex hooker Stella Stevens on their honeymoon. Gene Hackman as a disllusioned minister. Pamela Sue Martin and her bratty brother. Carol Lynley as a lounge singer, Red Buttons has a crush on her. And Roddy McDowall is a waiter observing it all.
Now something had to happen to throw these crazy kids together other they were on a ship.And darn it all, it did! A huge wave headed their way and the ship capsizes. Now that we've met the characters, we're invested in them. We want to find out how the hell are they going to get out of the ship.
So they go through obstacles and obstacles. Pamela Sue Martin has to swim; luckily she has red hot pants under her skirt. What I realized was Patchett was right; The movie keeps on throwing obstacle after obstacle on the characters, yet they keep fighting. They keep fighting to live.
Looking at my stories now I had to smile. Was it the old smeared font? Coffee stains? No. Mostly it reminded me that I never stopped writing, working. Yes I procrastinate,but I always worked hard. I always tried hard. It wasn't in me to just think oh this is too hard. I can't do this.
I took one of the stories to my laptop. Set it up so I could see it. Then I started revising. It's been fifteen years since I wrote it. I think it will forgive me it took a while to get back to it.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries