Jentel Days 23-24: Shift in Process
The past few days have provided an interesting window in my process…
This entire residency has been.
Some mornings here at Jentel, I actually woke up without a clear sense of direction. People who know me know that, if I am anything, I am a woman with direction. The experience of “not quite sure what next” has been disorienting, to say the least.
I attribute part of this to having a cast on my leg from the knee down. Movement and time outdoors (typically 2-4 hours a day for me) is my primary way of generating ideas, stories, new turns of phrase, and food for thought. But I think the larger factor in my disorientation has been the fact that Personae of War is coming to an end. This month, wrote the first draft of what I believe will be the last story in the collection. With the book in the hands of one publisher right now and in the inbox of another, “the divorce”—as I’ve been calling my separation from war stories—is inevitable.
I’ve heard seasoned writers talk about missing their characters at the end of a novel. I’ve heard others mention that they “grieve” the end of a new book. As Personae of War comes to a close, I think I’m getting a glimmer of what those writers mean. What will my stories look like without all the soldier slang and combat action verbs? What landscape will I evoke if not the desert, the sandstorms, the high and isolated peaks of Afghanistan and Iraq? And what about the comfort I found writing to the backdrop of war—will I ever feel that level of comfort again? Surely, but in what setting? What theme? What context?
At my peak of war writing, I sat at the desk each morning and felt as though all I had to do was move various characters across a stage that was already set. The research I had done provided me with the confidence to create context in a flash, describe setting in a convincing manner, and employ dialogue that was indicative of the time and circumstance. It was the most empowering and fluid feeling I’ve ever had sitting at the keyboard.
To be clear: I’ve still gotten lots of work done here at Jentel. But that precise passion that I’m used to working with, that eagle-eye determination that I define myself by—that’s what shifting in my process.
What project do I throw myself into next?
What will it be like to write without the backdrop of war?
How have these war stories changed my style for the better?
Will the war writing make other kinds of writing more difficult to get back into?
These are all the questions I’m asking myself. Thankfully, I have answers to the first one. There is another collection of stories, Ways of Light, waiting for my attention. Over 60% of them have been published. I need a handful of additional stories to round out the collection. Since these aren’t short-shorts, “a handful” could take me well over a year and that’s not counting time for revision.
I’m leaving myself open to other possibilities as well. I’ll be spending almost 4 months in my favorite mountain range of my home state, the Wallowa Mountains of Eastern Oregon. Stories, most certainly, will come from my closeness to the land and people there. The possibilities could be endless.
Thankfully, just thinking about it all gets me exciting for the coming year.