I said that this morning I wrote a story called "Someone Who Knew Things," which presently stands at 2600 words. I'm not done with it yet. I have to see. Right now, time away is being taken. All stories may be written differently. "What the Mouse Knew" is 1500 words and it took months, despite being in manuscript the first morning I began work on it. I expect that this other story will be officially done imminently. This was written in three stages.
Last night I had the idea, which I thought about in bed. I could have gotten up and written it then, which I do sometimes. But I was tired. I could have summoned the energy, but then I also would have been up late, and I wanted to start today strong.
The idea was to tell the story of someone's life starting with a day when they had a shirt on that read, I Drink and I Know Things. It wasn't going to chronological, necessarily, though it was going to end chronologically, you might say, at the end of this person's life. The story of the life would be presented in installments of individual days. A lot of the paragraphs begin "One day" or permutations thereof. We're going to see change in this person. But that's what we see first of them, that they're someone who at one point wore a T-shirt that read thusly. Which says something about someone, doesn't it? And what they wish to convey about themselves. An attitude. That's telling when someone wants to convey an attitude. This was going to be a highly flawed person, who learns some things. That person that is straight-laced, for instance, during the time that you know them, might have become that way because of other things they'd been and done. We sort of assume that they were always that way. But if you learn things, there are many ways that you stop being as you become other ways.
I sat at the desk today and in less than one hour, I wrote the story, which was 2500 words then. It had the title of "The Man Who Knew Things." It was written in blocks; that is, a story comprised of sectional components that function in dialogue with each other. I did this because we're in all of these different time periods. I didn't necessarily think this was final. It was just how the story was first gotten down. That was the first stage.
Then I created a separate document, and pasted the text into it to begin working anew. What I did now was bring the sections together. Some sections were paragraphs, and other sections were broken down into smaller paragraphs. A reader can't feel lost in time and place. You have to give them a sense of where they are and when they are. When you're jumping from paragraph to paragraph, across a large chunk of a life, you do this carefully. A lot of it is precise language, certain forms of signposting, tenses. The title changed to "A Man Who Knew Things."
It was clear right away that the integrated approach was the way to go, which is what I was thinking was going to happen all along. But it still wasn't quite right. The tense become so important. The verb that falls the set-up of each day needed to be present tense, and it wasn't present tense each time. That doesn't mean all of the other verbs without the incident or anecdote or day are present tense. They are told in the present tense, but when we tell something in the tense of course we often use the past tense.
I created another document, and once again I copied and pasted the text and went to work. It's clockwork now. You're getting everything correct, consistent, and in alignment, but while also being mindful that you don't want to set up patterns. This is organic, breathing life. It's not an exercise or a routine. In one excellent passage--one of the days--there's this day that is remembered within the day. This goes on for a number of paragraphs. The tense become past tense for the day recalled, but then you have to slip back into the present tense, which is itself is a kind of aggregated present tense, within the methodology of the story, which is a presentation of a life. Tenses become mutable then, and even sometimes when something sounds past tense, it's really present tense. There are these sort of weird verbs that work that way. Now you're calibrating people's experience in reading the story at a very high and sophisticated level. This is true command. But it's also going through and cutting the end off a word, shading, burnishing a gerund so that it has maximum meaning and holds down a key temporal spot in this present tense aggregation of days, which is not an oxymoron, but rather a paradox, because of the alchemical nature of writing. Then I change the title to "Someone Who Knew Things," because I didn't want it to lean necessarily in the masculine direction. It is the life of a man, but when something leans necessarily, that's not the same as it leaning. I didn't want it to be some "guy" thing, or suggest that it's a guy thing, just because it concerns a guy. (Although there are more women in the story than men.)
And then that was done and I went out and ran 5000 stairs and now I'm back. What remains now is going over it some more until I'm satisfied it's complete. I also read some of it over the phone to someone who then told me, "I don't need to tell you how angry hearing something this amazing makes me feel about these evil publishing motherfuckers. You can't even call this the same thing that any of those assholes write or put forward. It's too good to be just called writing. It needs its own term."
No, he didn't need to tell me, because I would know, of course.