Writing in Layers


So what have I been up to since my last post? Reading, writing, working. The usual.

The largely finished novel is receiving a final polish. There are two novels “in transition.” They have shape and text, but are nowhere near done. And then there is the new baby WIP—my current darling. Like all babies, it’s receiving all of my attention right now.

I don’t know about you, but I read when I write. It keeps me fresh and hones my skills. Problem is, I have so much going on, and I hate to waste my time with a book that’s just meh.

When I was taking suggestions for my next read, my amazing crit partner, Ms. Bean, suggested that I try Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Coming from the girl who rightly steered me toward Anna and the French Kiss and Unwind, I launched into this wonderfully written historical fiction.

I once attended a lecture by Kurt Vonnegut where he drew a graph representing most writing. It had the peaks and valleys of a wild rollercoaster ride that ended with the final hill shooting off into the sky. While we laughed, he pointed out how this in no way represented real life. That graph stuck with me.

All these years later, it’s as if Tracy Chevalier was sitting next to me on that day, learning what real life looks like. Girl with a Pearl Earring did not have the extreme dramatics of the usual conflict driven stories I read. Sure, there were peaks and valleys to this tension-filled story, but in much more realistic terms; more like the rippling hills of the Amish countryside than the ski slopes of Vail. It gave the whole novel plausibility.

There was much to love about this book. The imagery was written with a painter’s eye, rich and vibrant in every aspect—from grinding the paints to adding and removing backgrounds. As you read, the paintings and the novel grow, layer by layer. That’s when Ms. Chevalier taught me something about my own writing.

I’m a Vermeer. I write in layers. An object catches my eye, and I know there is a story in that image. I collect objects that may go into the novel—or not. I paint a background and then add on details, layer by layer, meticulously erasing something if it just doesn’t fit. After time and lots and lots of revisions, I add the pearl that brings focus to the work, that one thing that brings together the face and the headdress.

Another great call Ms. Bean! Now, what’s your next recommendation?

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