Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Post Date: August 6th, 2008


“I considered making (the movie) Kill Bill like climbing Mount Everest…That was a big mountain that I created and I climbed it and I taught myself how to climb as I climbed it.”

— Quentin Tarantino

Now it’s time to talk about the novel. I’ve made myself a mountain composed of 1,020 double-spaced pages (read 273,766 words as of this morning, and 274,301 the other day, so I’ve managed to cut 535 words this week). This beast got birthed in the early nineties (I think it was 1993) and now IT IS 2008.

Dear God, what have I been doing?

An interviewer once asked Frank McCourt (author of Angela’s Ashes, ’Tis, and Teacher Man) why he didn’t complete his first book till he was past sixty. His response: he taught high school for 30 years. To get where I am today, I have had to leave the teaching profession (14 years), find part-time jobs so I could create the novel’s first draft, and now write and revise outside the forty-hour week (easier now that my work week is no longer sixty plus!). But that excuse is over. What obviously, I’ve had spare time all along, so what have I been doing outside my forty hour work week these last few years? Writing short stories, essays, and educational materials. Doris Betts (author of The Astronomer and Other Stories, The Sharp Teeth of Love, and Souls Raised From the Dead) once described to me and fellow workshop participants something called the “stopgap manuscript,” meaning a piece you turn to when you’re stuck on the current project (or when you think you’re going crazy if you look at another page). Unfortunately I’ve somewhat abused this survival strategy and I need to face the fact that if I don’t get serious EACH DAY about the novel, doing it before all other things, then it will be 2018 and still this same lament.

Oh but wait! The other thing I’ve been doing is learning how to write a novel. Doesn’t that self-teaching take some time?

Whatever. Enough excuses.

Today I will not only cut more words but I will keep in mind this question: what mountain is Daria (the protagonist) scaling? If that mountain is “conflict” (the heart of each scene) then what is the mountain, the shifting tectonic plates beneath it, the rock slides, the avalanches moving that scene forward? Because the current scene I’m working on disregards Janet Burroway’s quote of the prior post. I’m trying to too hard to inform people about what life is like for teachers, rather than discovering things about Daria, the protagonist who happens to be a teacher. I fight to write the soapbox rant inside me – how no one seems to be interested in how teachers teach, the art and science of it, and how teachers really live, the intrigue and politics and drama of it in the faculty lounge and at home, unless it involves someone standing on a desk and ripping up a book (thanks, Dead Poets Society) or sexual scandal (thanks, today’s media). I began this rant long ago and since then a lot of people have worked hard to correct the stereotypes with works like Freedom Writers and Half Nelson. So the novel gets rant-y and teacherly at times, a lot of times.

Not allowed today.

A friend who just subscribed to the blog wrote me an e-mail: “Don’t let your blog get in the way of the novel.” He’s one of two people who’s read an entire draft and who keeps me going with promises to get the first copy when it comes out. Thanks for keeping me honest.

Today’s Writing Goal: See above

Today’s Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.

Elementary: Draw a mountain. How tall will it be? How wide? How rocky? Are there animals? Flowers? Trees and other plants? Now imagine yourself climbing this mountain. Now write a description of this mountain, telling us the most interesting parts. Write as if you were making a movie of this mountain and wanted people to see it. What do you discover as you climb? What’s at the top? What’s on the other side?

Secondary and Adult: Describe a mountain you have climbed. A mountain can be a hill, part of a trail that’s an incline, or an actual mountain. A mountain can also be an obstacle in your life, something big you’ve had to overcome. Talk about the easiest parts and the steepest parts. Talk about the side trails. Talk about the summit. Talk about the views. What did you discover while scaling this mountain? What makes you glad about this experience? What regrets do you have?

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