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Chutes, Quilts, Threads
Did I jinx myself by announcing that the writing was flowing again?!
Just one day later I had a sick kid, for the third time in as many months. And thankfully it was a mild sickness, and thankfully it wasn’t the sickness, but it still meant four days of no daycare, which meant my own work got back-burnered so I could focus on the extra-needy little one while not dropping too many balls at my day job and while fighting off sickness myself. Now I’m in “Where was I?” mode. It is what it is; this novel will be a project of fits and starts, a product of my life as it is at this moment.
I did make some progress this week, though. Too tired for new words, but my brain could still organize, so I did what I said I needed to do two months ago and untangled all the texts from the old Scrivener file, sorting them into folders in the new file: chapter folders if they could be used, a “Working 💭” folder if I wasn’t sure, or a “Cut ✂️” folder if they needed to go. Most went to the latter and that’s fine. Things are cleaner.
And I’ve been (slowly) reading good things. I’ve become a little obsessed with the visual essays of Sarah Minor. My friend Anna sent me The Hidden History of the Laundry Chute, an object lesson of Minor’s that appeared in The Atlantic, because in it Minor mentions that she lived in Rockford as a child and all my friends here on the East Coast tell me whenever they see Rockford mentioned anywhere.
Anna also probably knew that I would love the essay, and I did. I’ve since been making my way through Minor’s collection Bright Archive and it turns out that that object lesson is a sort of companion piece or perhaps predecessor to her visual essay Foul Chutes: On the Archive Downriver, which appeared in Ninth Letter and is included in Bright Archive. I love this essay. I love the shape of it, how it jumps around, the connections it makes, the many open paths for reading it. The whole collection is like that.
I also read, over many sittings, These Precious Days, the title essay from Ann Patchett’s recent collection. I guess you could say I’ve been thinking about what essays can do and whether this “long nonfiction thing” I keep referring to is one or not, and Patchett’s essay was recommended to me as an example of a very long (20k+ words) essay.
Where Minor’s work feels challenging, asking you to read sentences multiple times and consider them from different angles, Patchett’s work sort of takes you by the hand and leads you along and makes you feel like you know these people in real life. I love both kinds of writing. Both are done exceptionally well in these examples, both well woven. I’m glad I read them side by side. I still don’t know what to call my nonfiction project.
But I think there might also be something here for my novel. Something about how a novel with a first-person narrator can feel like the best nonfiction. Something about how my narrator, specifically, would choose to structure her story. Following this thread.