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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Thursday, January 12, 2006

ocean through a pinhole

More rain: all day today. Again I rose and straightaway plunged into chapter-drafting. Again I was quite productive: I plowed all the way to page 19 before lunch. My goal has long been to write my book the way I write, say, my dreams--just to type quickly and not worry about how I express myself. This I have not really achieved, partly due to the fact that I just don't know what I'm going to write (unlike the dream, which is a personal event that has already happened), and much of it depends on accurate research; and partly due to good old personal writing inhibition, the fear of writing badly.

But with a work of this size, I feel I need to zip ahead whenever I get a tailwind. The chapters are getting easier. I have written enough of them (although this one is numbered 20, it is actually my 22nd chapter, due to the splitting and merging of chapters earlier on) that they do not seem such a big deal. Just as, on my project spreadsheet, the numeric averages are settling in (average chapter length: 31 pages; average number of words per page: 222; average number of words per chapter: 6,806), so in the writing itself: I know the material will probably fall in a range of type and quality between poles that have already been established. Not unlike the dictum of Jonathan Goodwill, line producer for season 1 of The Odyssey, that "with twelve episodes you get four that are great, four that are okay, and four that are not so hot." In the same way, there is a minimum quality below which I won't write (I'll revise the material, even though it's first draft), and there is no doubt a kind of maximum that I can't get above, due to my inherent limitations as a writer and as a human being.

My problem in writing, generally, I think, has been one of trying to play it safe. A lot of native talent is trying to come out through a risk-averse expressive mechanism. I have tried to open this up over the years, tried to let it flow more. Astrologically, it is signified by my having Saturn in Capricorn in the 3rd house of communication, as well as Mercury in Capricorn in the same house. Where Saturn is, we feel restricted, inhibited, insecure, inadequate. Saturn shows where we're always afraid of messing up, and where, partly in consequence, we do mess up. Saturn in this position, if afflicted by other planets, can signify speech impediments and learning disabilities. Luckily, I had none of these, but I have had a lifelong feeling of verbal insecurity, which has driven me to overcome the perceived deficit. This too is Saturn in action: where we put in long, determined effort to overcome a problem, usually with the result that we eventually master it and even become an expert. Your Saturn placement shows where irritants, over time, become pearls.

Anyway, in my case native fluency and psychological inhibition have combined to produce my style. I have always been quite well pleased with what I write, and how. I have never suffered the terrible trouble at getting words on paper (or screen) that so many writers do; I have never had a serious case of writer's block. My problem is almost the opposite: I have so many ideas, and only a limited capacity for writing them. I feel like a pinhole through which the ocean is trying to pour. My writing is I suppose a high-pressure jet, needle-thin, but sharp and penetrating.

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