Word carving

A friend of mine is a wood carver. He makes all kinds of things, but his specialty is duck decoys. Not the kind you float on the water to lure in other ducks but the kind you enter is shows and win ribbons for. I have no abilities in physical art. My brain cannot imagine in three dimensions the way some people can. The old joke about carving an Indian from a block of wood has rueful significance for me. How do you carve an Indian from a block of wood? Easy, just remove everything that isn’t Indian.

One of the “sins” in wood carving is doing the detail work before the overall structural work is finished. My friend once showed me a full-sized carousel horse a friend of his was carving. She’d asked him to help her with it. Her problem, my friend told me, was that she had drifted into working on the intricate detail of the saddle when she should have been finishing the macro work on the rest of the horse. She was getting sidetracked and not making the big progress she needed to make. Thus her request for his help.

The same was nearly the case with my work on Finnegans Deciphered. I noted here last week that I’ve had a number of revelations rush into my head recently about major and minor structural fixes the story needs. Some character perspectives need to make complete turns. The sequence of time in the story needs to be changed (and the consequences of this throughout need to be spotted and fixed). An entire chapter needs to be expanded and then chopped into two chapters. I need to bump up the dialog and add more descriptive detail. None of this is surprising, and none of it is insurmountable, but all things in their time.

I found myself wanting to attend to these details rather than finish the last chapter of the story. I’m not sure why. It wasn’t that the detail work would be any easier than writing that last chapter. Indeed, having the end clearly in place (however tentative it might prove to be) would seem to make the rewriting easier and clearer.

I was tempted to do the detail word carving rather than finish the structural work first. But I gave myself a stern lecture about the mistake of this approach and then sat down (in the wee, small hours of Saturday morning) and pushed to the end.

It was satisfying, and I think I’ve come across a sort of signature style to the endings of my Finnegans novels. (This is the fourth Finnegans novel I’ve drafted. The first was apprentice work and good only for stealing bits from. The second is probably worthy but needs some reworking. The third was lost in my hard drive crash of a couple of years ago, but I think I can salvage most of it from email attachments. Always do frequent backups! I can’t say that enough, even to myself!)

So Finnegans Deciphered is whole. Not complete, but whole. I resisted the siren call of detail work and did the right thing. Now the rest of it needs attending to. Step aside, folks. There’s some heavy lifting ahead.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Finnegans, Process

2 Comments on “Word carving”

  1. Averil Dean Says:

    Congratulations! Good for you, keeping your eye on the ball. I let mine wander into copyediting (i.e. procrastination) and I’m still trying to recover and get back to the story.

  2. Lyra Says:

    My heart stopped a brief moment when I read you lost number three. My first draft is by hand, so I’d always have some version, but now, rewriting while typing, the thought paralyzes me.

    As for the carving, I love this. I have been attempting to break the habit of carving out eyelashes when the head isn’t fully formed. So much gets trashed after the initial first draft spewing, it is saving me an enormous amount of time to leave the damn eyelashes until I know they’re staying put.


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