ZZ Packer – Everything Counts

My literary life is flashing before my eyes.  This is the year where I’ve read at least five books a month if not more.  The scenes I’ve admired come to me while I’m writing and it’s always the same.  There’s an important detail that lends depth to theme and moves plot or develops character (my two most mentioned and believed in traits for a successful work.)  As I sit down to write, these scenes assault me with their salient detail, their ticks to an ever expanding clock-face.  It’s hard enough not to push them away and remind myself to write shittily for my first draft (A. Lemott).  The tenth draft?  Forget about it.  I type through sludge, some mean fifth grade teacher times me in the corner and even my cat takes a sniff at the screen and declares, “Meow.”  Which means, “Total crap, you moron.”  Then I get over it and write my required few hours.  Later, I mine what came out and hope for something that reveals character or exposes theme.

Right now, I am re-shaping my memoir.  It’s probably in its tenth re-write which is time to let it go.  Isn’t it appropriate for me to read wordsmith, sociological genius ZZ Packer?  I think it’s doing the trick because she’s reminding me to zero in on the importance of the scene.  What’s not important, no matter how cute, funny, etc., it is needs to be left behind.  I didn’t want to read any further when I got to this description (and it deserves a dog ear in your book):

We made our way through the darkness by flashlight.  The tree branches that had shaded us just hours earlier, along the same path, now looked like arms sprouting menacing hands.  The stars sprinkled the sky like spilled salt.  They seemed fastened to the darkness, high up and holy, their places fixed and definite as we stirred beneath them.

Some, like me, were quiet because we were afraid of the dark; others were talking like crazy for the same reason.

“Wow!” Drema said, looking up.  “Why are all the stars out here?  I never see stars back on Oneida Street.”

“It’s a camping trip, that’s why,” Octavia said.  “You’re supposed to see stars on camping trips.”

Janice said, “This place smells like my mother’s air freshener.”

“These woods are pine,” Elise said.  “Your mother probably uses pine air freshener.”

This scene is important to reveal the city mentality of the girls and goes along with their goal of kicking Troupe 909’s asses.  The fact that troupe 909 is actually developmentally disabled and are incensed at being accused of saying a bad word correlates with the city vs. nature theme, as well as the sophisticated verses not so sophisticated theme.  The main character has an epiphany at the very end, when she realizes that her father took the low road and the Troupe 909 is actually nobler than he.  Every word counts and all scenes contribute to the whole.  Thanks for the neurosis ZZ.

4 responses to “ZZ Packer – Everything Counts

  1. Love Ann Lamott but still find the shitty first draft stage daunting. It takes a lot of courgage. Kudos to you for getting to the 10th re-write of your memoir. Great scene you chose as an example of zeroing in on the scene.

  2. Thanks, Carol! I am not sure I get the Kudos yet…haha! I’ll take it when I’m finished. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Thanks for the introduction to ZZ Packer, I don’t know this writer, excited to learn more, Anne Lamott – love her insights and down to earth attitude, she makes it all very human.

    All the best with the memoir and thanks for commenting on my short story post.

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