Friday, March 6, 2009

Nothing wasted, Nothing gained

Unfinished manuscripts, false starts and deleted scenes are things every writer accumulates over time. Things that just didn't click for some reason. Ideas that were so clear at the time but for whatever reason didn't come together. Or didn't work in the project you wrote them for. I have tons of these. 

I have entire folder on my computer filled with documents that I originally wrote on my SmithCorina Word Processor during my freshman year at NYU. They were saved on hard disks. I've had to convert them through four different software upgrades. They lost all their formating, but I keep them anyway. I also recently found a notebook of things I wrote in high school amongst an entire bookshelf in my office, stacked with unused drafts of every novel I've written. I keep these things because I know there are pieces in them that I can use at some point. I think it's something you have to believe to ever become a writer. 

The process of accumulating these scraps is so frustrating that I think it's what causes most young writers to give up on it. There's this incredible feeling of having wasted your time when you write 250 pages of a book only to realize that you've lost the story. A few years of that will drive most to quit. That's why I always try to think of writing like I do with painting. A painter doesn't finish every painting. Or musicians. They don't finish every song. But pieces make it into later works. You can hear this if you listen several demo versions of songs and then the finished ones. A great example of this is the song The Other Improv on With the Lights Out. It was a one off free form that lasts 9 minutes. But there are lines in that improve that make it into two other songs that appear on In Utero. That's the way I treat writing.

"Morgan puts her hand on my chest and pushes me. Holds my chest flat so that it's hard to breathe and I struggle for air. Impossible for me to scream and the air is filled with so many sounds like the screeching of heavy machines but it is only the grinding of zombie teeth.

It burns when her teeth penetrate my stomach and tear into my flesh. Teeth working deeper like bloody chainsaws, ripping veins and getting thirstier with each new layer. Painfully peeling back my skin like tearing open Christmas paper. Feels like I'm being licked with the fire tongue of a demon as my body is torn open with bones poking out at all angles when the other girls join in. Their teeth too long and too sharp, made for shredding organs and pulling apart abdomens.

I feel them swallow my hands and swallow my feet and I try my best to scream but I cannot hear anything except the gnashing of teeth and the warm breathing against my face." page 91 Zombie Blondes.

That passage was taken from an unfinished novel I'd written three or four years before writing Zombie Blondes. It wasn't zombies tearing apart the main character in  that story, it was some kind of aquatic fishboy monster. It was scene that always stuck with me. As I was writing Zombie Blondes and reached this point in the novel, I knew I needed something pretty strong and graphic. 

I immediately thought of this scene and searched the folder on my computer titled POSSIBLE PROJECTS. It took some searching. It could have been from one of several rather experimental novels that I'd attempted. Luckily I have a fantastic memory and was able to narrow it down to three written during my drinking days at the International bar located just around the corner from my 7th Street stomping grounds.  

I found it, read it, changed a few lines and that's it. It found it's place. Every scene has it's place, but sometimes it's not always where I thought it would be. 

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