2005-10-26

AARGH

Crappy weather, still. And I killed all of yesterday going to see a horse who ended up being TOTALLY not right for me (I miss Nelson more every single day -- I was truly lucky to find such a sweet, athletic, smart, and correctly built horse, and even though we only had a few months together, it was life-changing, and I'm beginning to feel I will never replace him). This horse situation is starting to be a real problem -- I tell myself each morning "Don't think about horses until your work is done!" so of course, all I can do is think of horses. It's getting to be a total obsession, like I'm a 13 yo girl. And as if I didn't have enough keeping me from wanting to work, a dear friend has his 6-month CAT scan today and his freaked-outedness about it has me pretty worked up, too.

I know the only answer is to work through it, go to the page. But I don't want to go to the page. I just want to cry and eat chocolate.

I'm going to lunch. Maybe I'll feel more like working after I eat something.

I hate myself when I don't work. Really, really hate myself. And I've been on such a roll this month -- 13 days of a possible 16, and several of those days I managed 2000+ words! And then, of course, this morning, on the way to the office, I started to wonder if everything I've written on the novel has been wrong ... if in fact our hero isn't engaged at book's open, but rather still trying to get the ring from the man of her dreams, so that actually she's just gotten the ring in Chapter 9, and Chapter 10 starts the wedding madness ...

And I'm pretty sure that all this stuff happening in Chapter 10 needs to happen by Chapter 5 or so, and that this book is MUCH SHORTER than I think it is.

And this thought, of course, leads to my worry that I've spent too much time worrying about plot and not enough luxuriating in my characters.

Who scare the pants off me, of course. Playing with their lives worries me that I'm playing with fire too close to mine.

But what other choice do I have?

Aargh. Really that's all I can say about that.

2005-10-07

CREATIVE CRISES MANIFESTO AND EMERGENCY ACTION PLAN

We accept that creative crises are a fact of life for any thinking person who wants to create anything. Crises are crippling, paralyzing things, and happen to anyone with half a brain who knows how to use it. Crises can make you doubt everything you believed about your own talents—they can make you think you haven’t an original, unique, funny, nor insightful cell in your DNA. But though creative crises come to all of us, they can be held at bay by certain actions, and even when they can’t, there are methods for weathering these crises, and even working through them.

CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF FIRST THING – ON THE PAGE!

I find that when I’m particularly stricken with creative panic, the first thing I stop doing is facing myself. I fill myself with other people’s words, other people’s music, and I avoid my notebook as if it were infected with the plague. Journaling and miscellaneous scribbled coffee-shop observations and little plot and character ideas I jot down while stuck in traffic cease completely. THIS IS AN ENORMOUS MISTAKE. Even when you feel you haven’t got a thing on earth to say that would be of interest to anyone else, even when you think everything you’ve created or attempted to create is crap, IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT YOU KEEP CHECKING IN WITH YOU. You feel an overwhelming desire to stop “working” on your current project? Okay. Indulge it if you have to. But at all costs, keep talking to yourself in your notebook. Julia Cameron recommends daily “Morning Pages,” three pages of longhand journaling to clear your head. Dorothea Brande recommended this decades before Cameron, suggesting you write first thing, before even getting out of bed. I’ve been keeping a journal since I was eight or nine and first read Anne Frank, but in the last decade or so I’ve realized daily morning pages are indispensable to me. Even when I can’t write another thing, I can go about the rest of the day, post-morning pages, knowing I’ve exercised the writing arm for at least three pages … and usually more, since I’ve taken on Brande’s advice that you write these pages until the steam runs out.

REPETITIVE PHYSICAL ACTION IS KEY TO KEEPING THE GEARS OILED

I am not the first person to think a daily walk is key to keeping myself open and aware enough to let inspiration strike. This is not to say that on every walk I find myself fixing a problem in my narrative, or figuring out what it is I want to write next. Most days, really, I’m mostly thinking “Damn, it’s hot, and I really, really, don’t want to walk up that hill right now, but hell, I’m out here and the only way home is up it, so up it I go.” That said, after every walk I’m more focused, more dropped down to myself, and even if I don’t go straight to the page, I clean the house with real verve and precision. But with practice, when I manage to keep my daily walks actually daily for any extended period of time, I do find that more often than not, inspiration does strike, or better, the repetitive physical act of putting one step in front of the other quiets my worries enough to allow me to get back to work. Also, walking from here to there shows me I can get from start to finish with all my projects—if I want to get to THE END, then I just have to remember, I do have it in me walk up that hill. I do it everyday, after all. (Biking, riding, kayaking, surfing—these probably are equally good activities to attempt. As long as you can’t read the newspaper doing it, it’s a good repetitive physical action to try. This is why I don’t think the treadmill at the gym is a substitute for a good old-fashioned walk—watching Dr. Phil on the monitor, or skimming a magazine, blocks out every “I’m open, I’m open” impulse the activity I recommend is geared towards nurturing.)

SHOW UP

Don’t bring a stack of magazines. Don’t carry “other work.” Go somewhere where it’s just you and your notebook, or you and your computer, and be there. You can’t do the work if you’re not at the table. Period. You’re much smarter when you’re writing then when you’re thinking about it. Prove me wrong, why don’t you?

NO IMPULSE IS THE WRONG IMPULSE ON THE PAGE

That’s not to say that every impulse is right, but how are you to know the difference between right or wrong until you get to the end of your story and figure out what’s there? So don’t ever let not knowing what comes next stop you. Write down whatever comes to you, or skip to your next certain beat. You can always erase a misstep, or fill in the blanks to the next beat that’s calling to you—even better, often times, you’ll realize you don’t need to fill in that missing moment, it’s assumed just by getting to that next, vital, breathing beat.

DON’T EVER WALK AWAY FROM A PROJECT WITHOUT KNOWING WHEN YOU’RE COMING BACK

As I’ve said before, I generally get the impulse to walk away from whatever I’m working on somewhere in the middle, just as the first energies of the new voice I’ve discovered is no longer able to do all the work of supporting the story without something else to back it up. This, for me, is where my “I’m a talentless hack” song starts to scream at me so loud I can only silence it with an entire Entemann’s coffee cake. You’ve got a few options at this point. You can, if you’re a better, stronger person than I, skip the coffee cake and write through the internal screams, following the “NO IMPULSE IS THE WRONG IMPULSE” rule I’ve stated above. Or you can move to another project on your docket, and work on whatever is calling your passions more strongly for a little while. This is not exactly the wrong move, because at least you’re moving forward on something you love. That said, if you find yourself getting to a point halfway through that second piece where you stall out, thinking you’d give your left arm to be working on something else, you’ve got a problem. If this second roadblock sends you back to the first thing you’d walked away with, you may have a workable system, moving back and forth, back and forth, until completion of both, but if you’re anything like me, I’m assuming it’s not quite that easy. So here’s what I do:

1. WHEN BEGINNING A PIECE, I WRITE TO THE FINISH BEFORE STARTING SOMETHING ELSE.

This rule is easiest to accomplish with stories, essays, poems, articles—things in which you can actually envision the end of a first draft coming to you in under three months. Any longer, and it gets harder to sustain, so I no longer force myself to adhere to this rule with novel-length projects. Instead, I consider chapters of my novel discreet pieces of work for this project. That way, I can say, “I AM FINISHING CHAPTER EIGHT BEFORE GOING ON TO SOMETHING ELSE” as opposed to “I AM FINISHING THIS 400-PAGE NOVEL BEFORE GOING ON TO SOMETHING ELSE.” Much easier to swallow. And it may be, that after Chapter Eight, I decide Chapter Nine has my most passionate attentions, so Chapter Nine comes next. Or I decide to go on to a story or essay I’ve been thinking about for awhile—and I write that TO THE END before going on to something else.

2. SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO INTERRUPT YOURSELF.

Of course, sometimes life intervenes in your start-to-finish plan. Deadlines on other projects, or sheer panic, can lift you from what you’re attempting to write straight through. So promise yourself that once you’ve FINISHED this other, interrupting-piece, you will return to what you’d previously started, until you finish that, too.

These rules are why my writing docket looks like this right now:

a) COMPLETE DRAFT 2.0 OF TRAVEL ESSAY: My first priority, only because it has a deadline attached—I have to bring it to my Writing Group next week.

b) COMPLETE DRAFT 1.0 OF CHAPTER EIGHT: I had to interrupt work on Chapter Eight in order to complete TRAVEL ESSAY for Group, so once I’m done with Travel Essay, it’s back to Chapter Eight I go..

c) COMPLETE DRAFT 1.0 OF CHAPTER NINE or COMPLETE DRAFT 2.0 OF TRAPEZE NOVELLA or COMPLETE DRAFT 2.0 OF DOCTOR/NURSE STORY: What I do following Chapter Eight’s completion will depend where my head is when I get there.

d) IF I COMPLETE A NON-NOVEL PROJECT FOLLOWING CHAPTER EIGHT, I MUST RETURN TO THE NOVEL NEXT—I MUST NEVER MOVE AWAY FROM THE NOVEL FOR MORE THAN ONE PROJECT-CYCLE AT A TIME.

Finally, for endless inspiration:

SEE NEW MOVIES, READ NEW BOOKS, HEAR NEW MUSIC.

Enjoy what’s out there. That’s what you want to be a part of, right?

BUT ALSO, JUST AS IMPORTANTLY, SEE THE MOVIES YOU LOVED AS A KID, READ THOSE BOOKS, LISTEN TO THAT EMBARRASSING MUSIC.

Remember who you were if you want to really know who you are when it’s just you and your keyboard. That person who considered Skid Row deeply profound wouldn’t have for a second thought she wasn’t good enough to lay it all out for everybody on her own damn page.

2005-08-24

August Check-in

I finally found my summer groove! This month, I wrote a 13,000 word long story concerning a trapeze family and their middle daughter's struggle to fly free -- and I actually LIKE the first draft, and believe I can make something lovely from it.

Here's how I broke through the summer doldrums. As I've said earlier, my life was pretty upended by circumstances out of my control--my wonderful 5 year-old quarter horse Nelson, who came to live with me in May, became violently ill and had to be hospitalized in July. He very nearly died during his 4 1/2 week hospital stay, and I spent a lot of time on the road, traveling back and forth to see him. With Nelson in the hospital, I found myself waking up later and later, because I no longer had to rush to the barn at the dawn to ride. So between bed and the freeway, writing hours got shorter and shorter ...

With the result that I became more and more depressed.

Finally, the first week of this month, I reminded myself of what I know to be true about my writing habits, and yet so often let myself forget:

1) I write best first thing in the morning, preferably before I speak or see anyone, and much as I hate leaving our warm bed in the mornings, I work better if I get to the page while Husband is still asleep.
2) Writing 1000 words is ECSTACY. Pure and simple. Writing 1000 words is as good as anything anything anything gets. Writing 1000 words sends me off towards my other chores and responsibilities happy and care-free and high. Giddy with joy, even. Funny how, when I'm not writing, this is the thing I most quickly forget.

So I started getting up in the mornings again--up at 7, out the door by 7:15. First stop: Starbucks, where before my coffee I wrote a minimum of 5 pages in the journal, then ordered a non-fat latte and read until 9. At 9, I kept a date with my story, and wrote until 11 each morning, aiming for a minimum of 1000 words and hitting way past the mark several times.

The high that followed allowed me to cope with the stress of my horse's illness--recently, horrible as it is to say, he's taken a turn for the worse. It also helped me be sweet and kind and good to Husband, who in return did anything and everything to get me out the door mornings, even agreeing to go to sleep earlier than usual and not bitching about my alarm going off hours earlier than he likes to wake up. He even insisted I go to work in the mornings despite our having house guests (the amazing man sent me to the office every morning and took on hosting responsibilities entirely by himself).

So now, as we prepare to leave for our 10-day excursion to Maine, I'm feeling good about my work because I FINISHED SOMETHING!!!! I moved through the middle-of-the-draft problem, and shot straight through to the other side!!!

And even better, as I wrote the story, the synapses kept firing towards other projects: I figured out exactly how my story collection functions, came up with a new story for it that takes its inspiration from the Nelson tragedy (writers are vultures), and figured out how three other stories for the collection that I'd been percolating for awhile actually get from a to b to c--how I should approach and move through them, how they start and end and even, how the middle parts work.

Anyway, I can go on vacation breathing easier because of all this. But also, I can go on vacation knowing that I won't stop writing just because we're traveling--that I'll actually enjoy it MORE if I escape for a few hours every day and hit the page. So that's the plan, and that's the gauntlet I'm throwing for myself over the trip's duration:

I WILL RETURN TO LA WITH A FIRST DRAFT OF A NEW STORY.

Because only if I keep writing can I truly relax.

2005-08-15

Takes One to Know One

The best description I have ever, ever seen of writer-paralysis (and the very reason I have vowed to NEVER LOOK BACK, NEVER START OVER until a draft is done from start to end) is found in the story "Sunlight," by Matthew Kneale, which is collected in a volume called Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance (a collection I can best describe as Roald Dahl grows up, ditches his mysogyny and dependance on magic to drive plot, and travels the Global Village behaving badly -- wonderful stories that made me so uncomfortable I had to stop reading them before bed because thinking about them afterward made it impossible for me to sleep). Anyway, see here:

All his dignity would be restored once he finished his novel.

Unfortunately, he never did. Years went by, and the book continued to slip and slide from his grasp. The maddening thing was he could never quite see what was wrong. Everything felt fine when he was deeply absorbed, but as soon as he stood back, distracted by a few day's break, or even an absorbing program on television, it all seemed to fall to nothing: characters he had thought intriguing and complex became somehow indistinguishable from one another (changing their names, which he did repeatedly, never seemed to help). Likewise, plot lines that had felt ingenious suddenly appeared lacking in any sense of surprise, as if the whole story might be the background to something else more eventful. A number of times he tried to abandon the whole project, only to be pulled back, like a cart dragged into the same muddy ruts it has got stuck in ten dozen times before. How could he give it up whne he had already invested so much time? [...] So he worked on, accumulating first chapters--he never quite got started on a second--of wide variety, one opening with Lucinda dancing passionately in a 1932 Berlin nightclub, another beginning with poor Hermann breathing his penniless last breath in the chill wind of 1979 New York, a third starting with Leonora (previously Lucinda) weeping tight-lipped in her Stepney home at the news the Gerhardy (Hermann) has been reported missing in action from the Afrika Korps. The novel did not grow so much as spread, as pages of handwritten notes and printed openings piled up in his study, on shelves, in drawers, on the floor at his feet.
Story of my first novel, with the slight exception that I managed several awful complete drafts in addition to the dozens and dozens and dozens of first chapters that are archived in stacks of plastic file boxes in our garage.

2005-08-14

Another Lesson Learned

This morning I attended a bridal shower brunch for a very dear friend. She's a TV writer, very successful, and no one is more deservedly so -- she began as a receptionist and wrote her way up, and it's been a thrilling rise for everyone who loves her. Not surprisingly, many of the women at her shower were also TV writers, and that would have been just fine with me (I've never ever wanted to be a TV writer, I hate collaborative writing and I hate writing to deadline) had one of them not mentioned she'd just left her job to write a novel. That would probably have been okay, too, if she hadn't said it with such JOY, as in "I'm writing a book, and it's going great, I'm so happy, I've been at it a month and I'm hoping to find an agent by the end of the year" yadda yadda yadda.

And something about that just knocked me flat. Maybe it was her supreme confidence (which I wanted to believe was naivete) -- god knows this has not been the summer of Supreme Confidence for me. The combination of sun and kids running around and also the fact that my regular writing schedule has been sort of fucked up due to uncontrollable extenuating circumstances has made my sense of committment but more so my belief in my own abilities shrivel up and bake like a raisin. Add to that the "middle of the manuscript" problem, and it makes for a fine summer mess.

What, you ask, is the "middle of the manuscript" problem? Well, I have found over a long career that I tend to start strong -- disciplined, positive, productive, creative until, well, I hit the middle of the manuscript. Somewhere in the middle, I stall. I always stall. I know what comes AFTER the middle -- but for some reason, the connection between the START and the END goes blank. I begin to wonder if the beginning is any good, and if the end actually makes sense, and if maybe the whole project isn't completely empty or wrongheaded in the first place.

Then I dry up. I stop writing, but I keep showing up at my desk, and I beat myself up for the nothing that goes on there. Mostly nothing happens there because, though I'm at the desk, I find it impossible to actually open the appropriate document, so not surprisingly, I don't write a word.

So this summer, after much tsuris of the type described above, I eventually fixed on another tactic: I decided to work on stories for awhile, at least until I was ready to go back to the novel (in my head, ready = Labor Day, for some reason). Stories seemed manageable -- theoretically, they're easier to start and finish in shorter periods of time.

So I started a new story (now nearing 10,000 words, way past story length) and told myself I couldn't get back to the novel until I had COMPLETED a draft of the story. No more "stopping in the middles," I told myself, following a browsing of my files that revealed several half-drafts of various projects, "completing this story will give me a sense of accomplishment that will send me back to the novel feeling more confident -- finishing something will remind me I know how to do this, after all."

It's been tough. I constantly second-guess this choice, and wonder, on those days when I think "I should be working on the novel today," that maybe, indeed, I should go work on the novel. But then I wonder, "isn't going back to the novel while my story is middle of the manuscript just another act of procrastination against finishing the story?"

It's been a whole summer like that.

For the moment, I've decided to let process trump everything else, so I've made myself stick to the new story, and will do so until I reach THE END (hopefully this week). Then I will return to the novel -- and for now on, any time I want to stop work on the novel, I have to be AT THE END of a chapter, and I have to turn to another STORY and write TO THE END.

It's all about getting to the end, practicing completion.

Slow and steady, does, eventually, someday, over time, win the race.

As for my horribly depressing brunch experience, here's what I did next:

I went home, made a cup of coffee, and opened up THE STORY. I drank coffee and I wrote 527 words and followed them up with notes for the scenes I think follow next.

And what would you know -- that fixed everything. I did my work, and it felt great.

2005-08-08

They Can Let Me Down Easy Any Time

At the bottom of the form "no thanks" from Esquire, this lovely note:
Dear Sarah Kate Levy,

What a wildly entertaining read "Dirty Darlene" is! I hope you continue to submit to us. I'm sorry I can't place this piece.

-- MRM
Wish I knew who MRM was ... I'd send flowers. Really. I can hardly imagine a nicer thing to hear about "Darlene" short of someone wanting it. Made my whole weekend.

2005-08-04

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

2005-07-20

Faith?

Hmm. I'm the girl who went around my synagogue hanging "Is there a god?" signs on all the sliding walls. But that said, this is still a vaguely encouraging story.

2005-07-12

Monthly Check-in: June

DAILY GOALS:

Write 500 words (min) each day.

NUMBER OF DAYS I MEANT TO WRITE 500 WORDS: 18
NUMBER OF DAYS I ACTUALLY WROTE 500 WORDS: 14

ANALYSIS: Not terrible, but then again, the “meant-to” bar was lowered by traveling to Buffalo & Cleveland for 5 days, and then a totally disabling bout of PMS-induced-depression that horribly happened to coincide with my finishing Chapter 6, and so made beginning Chapter 7 a horrifying, shame-spiralling exercise in “oh-god-don’t-make-mes.” Of course, as usual, it takes Husband to point out that the depression is probably PMS, and Friend to suggest that if I can’t get through the PMS-depression wall with my usual bag of tricks than really I ought to just turn to other things for a few days. So I did, turning to home fronts, and got lots on those home fronts done (not least of which involved getting professional help, finally, for our WiFi network at home—yes, this is a plug, and well-deserved. Geek Squad rocked out). Anyway, per Friend’s advice, PMS days are now marked on the office calendar so that I don’t sit around for three days making myself feel bad, rather than taking action in other quarters. That said, I’m pretty sure that had the PMS days not coincided with the sticky-start days of Chapter 7, but rather happened mid-chapter, when I’m more sure of where I’m going, I wouldn’t have been so thrown and could probably have barreled through, murkily, but forward nonetheless. Guess this month will test that.

MONTHLY GOALS

Complete 2 novel chapters each month

PROJECTS COMPLETE: 2 chapters + new first paragraph of travel essay (I’ve learned to pat myself on the back for even the most minor of victories)

ANALYSIS: So I actually accomplished this goal – bravo to me! I do think these chapters are probably ridiculously underwritten, but hell, all I’m doing with this draft is getting the fuckers down in some semblance of “here’s what happens.” I can make it good in the next go-round, and shitloads better in the draft after that. Feeling on track for my Novel Draft 1.0 Halloween deadline (unless, of course, the projected 15 chapters balloons to 20+, but I’ll cross that bridge when I have to throw myself off it).

Workshop 1 project/month Goal Suspended Until November 1 (post-completion of Novel Draft 1.0)


UPDATE: That said, I am slowly reworking a travel essay that may make it to Group before then.

Submit current stories/essays for publication

“Darlene” went out to Another Chicago Magazine, The Missouri Review,, The Ontario Review, Chicago Review, Northwest Review, and BukAmerica.

Meanwhile, lots of other places turned “Darlene” down. Getting too depressing to list, really. That said, I am going to continue submitting to 5 venues each month through October. Come November 1, post-completion of Novel Draft 1.0, if “Darlene” remains unsold, I will spend some serious time with this version of the story and try to figure out (a) if it’s horribly flawed—and if so, try to fix it, or (b) I like it, everyone else is crazy—and if so, retire it from the submission cycle put it away for the eventual story collection, which I’m using November and December to work on, anyway.

2005-06-16

Experiment: A Cure for the New Chapter OH-GOD-NO-DON'T-MAKE-MEs?

Finished Chapter 6 yesterday. It's not the most inspired chunk of the manuscript thus far, but it's done, and at this stage in the game, "done" is the whole point. I'm going forward at all costs, and what's most interesting, I've discovered, is that with every new chapter I put to bed I am suddenly overwhelmed with strong and interesting ideas and situations to fix chapters that are behind me ... for instance, yesterday I figured out fixes for Chapters 1, 2, and 5 while printing out Chapter 6! So I've made notes on index cards with all those thoughts, and will continue forward into Chapter 7 as if all that information has already made it into the book, and then when I start DRAFT 2 I will do the actual creating of those new scenes and bits of information.

Of course, I was very excited about all of this and was thrilled about generating forward momentum into Chapter 7 earlier today as I made notes over a cup of coffee. Then I got to the office and the usual fears and procrastinations and negotiations with myself attendant with starting new chapters set in strong. I surfed and I emailed and I surfed some more, and finally I decided one more new working rule ...

NEW RULE:

From now on, when I can't seem to make myself stop avoiding sitting down to begin a new chapter, I will turn off the email, turn of the browser, and choose the item on my GTD task list that I have been most procrastinating and most dread doing and force myself to undertake it, in hopes that this horrible thing I really don't want to do will make sitting down and writing seem a much better deal.

In this case, the things I most don't want to do are clean out the microwave and mini-fridge that were included in my lease of this space. They are FILTHY -- really really really filthy, last-call-at-the-bar-women's-bathroom-filthy--but man would it be handy to bring leftovers to work and not only cool but also nuke them ... I've been avoiding this task since I rented this space March 1st, so today I attempt cleaning the microwave. Hopefully that will send me RUNNING back to my keyboard, and the threat of undertaking similar actions with the mini-fridge--tell me, really, how the hell do you end up with moldy cigarette stubs inside a refrigerator?--will keep me from acting similarly stupid about working in the near future ...

2005-06-08

Monthly Check-in: May

DAILY GOALS:

Write 500 words (min) each day.


NUMBER OF DAYS I MEANT TO WRITE 500 WORDS: 22
NUMBER OF DAYS I ACTUALLY WROTE 500 WORDS: 15

ANALYSIS: I lost 1 day accompanying Husband to doctor’s appointment (“Just like old people,” Mom says). I lost 5 more days to general malaise and some actual sick, though 2 of those 4 lost days I worked on the book by shoring up my notes, so that’s something. Lost 1 more day due to architect meeting, but heck, I’m counting that “research,” so there. All this said, my average daily word count for the month of May was in the 800+ range, so though I lost a lot of days, I got more words down than I could have.

MONTHLY GOALS

Complete 2 novel chapters each month

PROJECTS COMPLETE: 1+ chapter

ANALYSIS: I was supposed to finish Chapters 5 and 6 this month. However, schedule was a little bit messed up from the get-go, as I was still finishing up half of last month’s Chapter 4. So I didn’t start Chapter 5 until the second week of the month, and had my usual ARGH WHAT IS GOING ON HERE trouble with it just long enough to force Chapter 6 off the schedule entirely. Plus the loss of 7 working days just did not help at all. Ultimately, this month I was lucky to finish Chapters 4 and 5 … thankfully I managed high enough daily word counts (mostly hovering in the 1000 range) to do even that.

Workshop 1 project/month


UPDATE: Informed Wednesday Writing Group that I would not be workshopping again until the first draft of the novel is complete. Meltdowns ensued. Aftershocks still rippling through. High drama, none of it intended, all of it too much for me to want to deal with, really, but there you go. Hopefully equilibrium will quickly be restored.

Submit current stories/essays for publication

“Darlene” went out to The Journal, Frostproof, Gettysburg, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and Hobart.

Meanwhile, Glimmer Train, Open City, and First Intensity all turned “Darlene” down.

* * *

All in all, a pretty crappy month for work—I got very distracted by life, which led to institution of NEW RULE:

EMAIL AND WEB BROWSING ARE NOT ALLOWED UNTIL AFTER WORD COUNT IS ACHIEVED.

This has actually been very successful in the few weeks since I enacted this change. I get to work unencumbered by all distractions in the early part of the morning, which means I’m more focused and also more energized, so much so that I often surpass or even double my daily word count minimums (thus my pulling May together by month's end). Most days, by the time I get to the web post-work, I’m so locked in to work-mind that I barely want to surf—I’m getting through my emails and my blog time much much more efficiently now, and have a lot more time for non-writing office work (research, office-nesting, brainstorming, reading for friends).

JSF & KRAUSS

A few months back I made my feelings about Foer-the-person very clear here.

Not long after, the new book dropped, and I bought it, figuring it was no longer fair to keep ripping into the guy unless I actually read his work. To be honest, I dreaded reading the book, and let it sit on my bedside table for almost a month before I steeled myself sufficiently. However, eventually I did reach for it, and I have to say, I thought it was great from the very first page. I loved this nine-year-old and I willingly followed him all over the boroughs on New York as he battled his own inner demons and went searching for the lock to fit a mysterious key. I loved his friends, too, and his relatives, and not only did I laugh out loud at many passages, I also cried a great deal, too. So JSF got points on both those counts. Lots has been said in not very nice ways about the “gimmicks” in these pages (photographs, sketches, pages of number-strings) but I, for one, found them not gimmicky in the least (and let me be the first to say that I am always always reading with my gimmick-radar on, which is why I refuse to read 99% of everything that has any relationship to McSweeneys). I found all those photos and sketches and numbers to be completely character- and experience-revelatory. Ultimately, I liked this book so much that, finding myself with an hour to kill during errands last week, I chose to drive myself to the nearest bookstore and read the last 100 pages leaned up against a bookshelf with a store copy in hand, because I just didn’t want to wait until I got home. And I cried at the end, sitting on that bookstore floor while people stepped over and around me, so there you go. I said I’d withhold judgment until I’d read the new book. I read the new book, I liked the new book. The guy can write, and I wish him the best future career. That said, I also wish he’d keep his clapper shut.

Anyway, since I like books and I like marriage, and Nicole Krauss is married to JSF, and her new book dropped around the same time his did, I ordered both her new book and her first. I’m halfway through the first novel now and Jeesh, this woman’s imagination and her extraordinary, aching, precise prose are breathtaking in the extreme. I’m reading this book slowly because I don’t want to finish too fast, so yeah, I think she's pretty good, if not better than her husband, too.

2005-05-09

The Trouble with New Chapters and the Power of Routine

Starting a new chapter is always more difficult than I think it's going to be. Despite the fact that I have a good sense of where I'm heading, and even better, particular notes and thoughts and scenes and images in mind for "what happens next," I find when I start a new chapter, the events I thought "happen next" don't in fact "happen until something else happens," and I spent tons of time spinning my wheels trying to figure out what that "something else" is. This could be helped, I suppose, by just WRITING THROUGH THE PROBLEM until things fell into place, but of course, that would be way too easy.

Instead, I dither, re-reading all my notes, shoring up my outlines and research files, adding details to the big picture and moving events around.

And that's on the good days.

Consider this:

I finished Chapter 3 on 4/19. I had every intention to begin actual drafting of Chapter 4 on 4/20 -- and to be fair, I did start writing on 4/20. It wasn't good work, it was aimless casting about, but at least it was words on the page. But on 4/21, I got totally freaked out by the poor quality of 4/20's output, and rather than refocus and start again, I killed enough morning time surfing the internet that by afternoon my head cold was back with a vengeance and I went home to bed and didn't write a word. The following day, I wrote at home, and felt okay with the work -- not because it was good, but because, again, at least there were words on a page.

Then I spent 3 days, literally, cooking for Passover. Finally, I got back to the office on 4/25, but it had been so long since I actually dug deep into my work that instead of writing-writing, by which I mean, producing 500 words-on-a-page that take us forward, I made notes again. At least this time, the notes were somewhat original, new thoughts, which mapped the chapter, suggested the scenes and developments that would take me through--at least, now, I had a spine to hang my story. But actual words? No ma'am. I was still too freaked out to write-write, so I went home.

THIS IS VERY LAME, so I’ve decided to parse the causes of intertia in an effort not to repeat the same mistakes.

1. Partly, of course, there's the fear with each new chapter that I'll discover the story can't support the next step, that it's suddenly soul-less and mind-numbingly dull, not to mention a complete rehash of everything that I’ve written and worse, read, before.
2. And also, of course, there’s laziness. But laziness is not a real issue for me, in generally—as I’ve gotten older/married, I’ve found it harder and harder to sit still/be unproductive. I need to be accomplishing things, all the time.
3. Which makes me think the larger problem is lack of focus—and if that’s true, I need to take a look at my routine.

Routine is huge for me. Routine is how I stay feeling clear-headed and in control of my life. Routine is a free sort of anti-depressant, and believe me, it works.

Here’s a glance at my routine:

6:30 am – I get up early mostly because I have discovered if I don’t get out of bed with a flying start, I’ll spend the entire morning cuddling Husband, who tends to linger beneath the sheets. If I kill the morning, I enter a shame-spiral of “how could you lose so much time?” self-berating, which, of course, makes me just want to kill more time. Now, I would love to say that I get up that early because I wake every morning thinking, “I’m so excited to write today!” The fact is, I do actually wake up thinking that—really, I even say it to myself in this little whisper-voice a few times—but that ain’t enough ammunition when I’m faced with warm Husband in warm bed. What actually gets my feet on the floor is knowing I have an early morning appointment every day: a riding lesson.

7:30 am – I ride dressage every morning at a barn close to my house. I ride my own horse, in the company of my trainer, because even I am not responsible enough to make it to the barn that early in the morning if I’m not paying someone else for the time. But knowing I have to meet my trainer at 7:30 gets me up, and the act of riding itself gets me connected to the day. Plus, it’s me-time. Riding is something I do that Husband doesn’t, so it gets me up, out of the house, connected to my day, but also, connected to me as an independent being, which is halfway to me getting into writer-mind.

8:30 am – I have coffee and yogurt and biscotti at Starbucks (yes I know the coffee sucks at Starbucks and there’s something awful about buying into the chain-mentality, but it’s quick and consistent everywhere in the world, totally invariable, and for me, invariability is a pretty big plus when you’re talking routines). Over coffee, I write my morning pages, ala The Artist’s Way. I’ve been keeping notebooks since I was about seven and first read Ann Frank—thinking about how her words had granted her reprieve from the total erasure suffered by most other people in general and 6 million in particular is a large part of what made me decide to be a writer. But over the course of my life, I’ve had ups and downs in that department, and I recently discovered, to my horror, that the absolute hardest or most important moments of my own life—events that would come in handy for my work, for instance—are, for the most part, entirely unrecorded. Aargh. Clearly something kept me from the page, and that was damn silly. It would never happen today, however, because I have realized a coupla things from going through The Artist’s Way a couple of times (sometimes no matter how much someone’s touchy-feely-approach drives you crazy, they do have some interesting or useful things to say). One thing I learned was, dumping all my personal stuff into my notebook before starting work cleared my head for writer-mind and kept my personal distractions and anxieties on the back burner while I focused on the front. And even better, the more time I spent at the notebook, I realized, the more I wanted to get away from the crap there and REALLY WRITE. Which is how I get from Starbucks to my office.

9:30 am – 2:30 pm (or into the evening if I can steal the time) – I write 500 words minimum and pray for 1000 and more.

I mention all of this only because, once again, today I began a new chapter, and worse, on a Monday, after a weekend away from my desk and my notebook. This, of course, is the perfect recipe for creative stagnation and despair. Sickness and travel and Holy Days threw me off track in April, sure, but I refuse to let that derail me again in May. Today I got up, and got with the program—barn, notebook, office—and the opening for Chapter 5 followed, fitfully, to be sure, but still, I started typing, and the words were there. Good, bad, or ugly—doesn’t matter yet. I just made myself get going, 100 words, then 300, then 500, and then the scene was done. I got 520 words down on paper today, and opened Chapter 5 only 1 work day following the close of Chapter 4, and I thank my routines for that.

2005-05-03

Monthly Check-in: April

DAILY GOALS:

Write 500 words each day


NUMBER OF DAYS I MEANT TO WRITE 500 WORDS: 21
NUMBER OF DAYS I ACTUALLY WROTE 500 WORDS: 15

ANALYSIS: I lost 4 days to a trip to NY to attend a family wedding, despite packing my computer. I always think I’ll write on the airplane, but I never do, and this time was no exception—I spent the hours to NY and back catching up on my New Yorkers and New York Magazines. I also lost 2 days to the world’s worst head cold, though to my credit I did actually go to the office on those days, I just couldn’t bang anything out through the fog. That said, I wrote more than 1000 words for at least 5 of the days I did write, which brings my monthly word count up to cover days lost. HOWEVER, I still count this goal as NOT MET, because honestly, it’s more about the daily pen to paper than the statistical words.

MONTHLY GOALS

Complete 2 novel chapters + 1 other project = 3 pieces total


PROJECTS COMPLETE: 1.5 chapters of the novel

ANALYSIS: I think this new goal is silly and am going to revert back to original MONTHLY GOAL of 2 PIECES per month. Mostly because I always lost time to the “new chapter start-up” period (the time elapsed between Chapters 3 and Chapters 4, this months projects, was a record-breaking weeklong struggle), so 2 chapters takes more time than I thought. I’d rather have a goal that’s not-easy-but-doable (2 pieces) than one that’s optimistic-but-rather-unlikely (3 pieces), because who are we kidding here, completing two pieces is FABULOUS AND WONDERFUL AND NOTHING TO BEAT MYSELF UP ABOUT—I refuse to lose momentum due to shame-spirals, and am therefore dialing down the aspirations a bit. Slow and steady will eventually win the race. That said, I WOULDN’T HAVE MET THIS MONTH’S GOAL anyway, so there you go. It was a function of days-at-my-desk, clearly, and as you can see above, April suffered serious attrition for days-at-my-desk.

Workshop 1 story / 1 essay each month

Ha. Have also decided this is not the most productive goal, and am going to cut it, mostly because I have decided not to workshop the novel until Draft 1 is behind me, and as long as I’m trucking through Draft 1, it seems silly to divert attention to essays or story for workshop purposes, just so that I’m workshopping. More important, I think, that I be writing, and I’m writing the novel right now, so there.

Submit current stories / essays for publication

Last month I submitted "Dirty Darlene" to Center, Santa Monica Review, Bridge, Crab Creek Review, and Cream City. So far of this bunch, SMR has declined. Still waiting on everybody else.

2005-04-28

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem ...

... which I do. I can surf sites dedicated to organizational and productivity strategies for hours at a time. Yesterday, in fact, I killed FOUR HOURS doing it.

I know it was FOUR HOURS because one of the strategies I adopted to try to cut down on this time-vacuuming-career-draining problem was to begin a log recording how I spend my office time. Yesterday was the first day I did so, and here's what I found:

WEB & EMAIL & PLAYING WITH CALENDAR ON OUTLOOK -- 4 HOURS
WRITING -- 1.5 HOURS
READING MSS FOR FRIEND -- 1 HOUR
ORGANZING OFFICE (actually doing it, not just reading about doing it or making notes to do it) -- 15 MINS

So today's goals are to trim the surf time and beef everything else up. Granted, I still have a WiFi connection, so best intentions are pretty much poof so far ... though I kept my lit blog surfing to the 30 mins I'd planned for total web surfing this morning (and even managed to turn out the post below in that time), I couldn't resist quickly checking in on my favorite GTD sites.

And then it happened. There I was, minding my own business, procrastinating happily if guiltily, when I stumbled upon this take on writer's bl*** / debilitating procrastination in the most unlikely of places!

So sure, I may have a problem, but it ain't all bad.

On Rooms of Our Own (Again, Forever, Always)

We're about to start a major renovation at home, which has me thinking a lot about how/what I want my workspace there to be. I've already told our architectects it has to be quiet and somehow "separate" from the house, so people have to think twice about bothering me, but also so I catch myself as I'm getting up from the chair to go do dishes and make myself sit back down. I worry lots about going home to work again -- having office space a fifteen-minutes drive from home has been a blessing upon blessings, really. But we're not building more rooms so that I can keep throwing rent money at the dog-collar wearing kid I'm renting from here, so that being said, I think I ought to forward this essay to our architects as a sort of guide to how a writing space ought to be.

2005-04-01

Monthly Check-in: March

Having a horrible time motivating today -- head cold is screaming "We told you to take a day off, now you're going to be sick forever!" and I'm starting to think this should be the day. But if I don't write, I'll already be a day behind for April, which is a complicated month anyway considering the shuffling around I'll need to do with the writing schedule to account for mid-month trip to New York and seder preparations later ...

All this means, of course, is I'm procrastinating, but at least I'm doing things that are on my Office Action List, so here goes -- The March edition of the Monthly Check-in. And:

Yippee for me! Goals mostly met this month.

DAILY GOALS:

Write 500 words each day

NUMBER OF DAYS I MEANT TO WRITE 500 WORDS: 24
NUMBER OF DAYS I ACTUALLY WROTE 500 WORDS: 23.5

Analysis: Not going to beat myself up about one 1/2 day lost, considering for much of the month my daily word count greatly exceeded 500. Plus I managed all this despite horrendous cold and horrific computer issues at home that have eaten up 8 hours of each of the last three days.

MONTHLY GOALS:

Complete 1 novel chapter + 1 other project (chapter, story, essay) monthly = 2 pieces total

NUMBER OF CHAPTERS: 2
OTHER PROJECTS: 1 (first draft of travel essay "Honeymoon Where the Sun Never Sets!"

Analysis: Very impressed with my output this month. In fact, have decided upon NEW MONTHLY GOAL in this category, as of APRIL -- Complete 2 novel chapters + 1 other projects -- to which end I am instituting 1 additional workday each month, on a weekend day, set aside for speed-writing one start-to-finish story or essay draft.

Workshop 1 story / 1 essay each month

Hmm. I brought first 20 pages of "Endurance" to Monday group on Feb 28, I think, and have sent "Honeymoon..." draft off to Sunday group already for reading April 2. Gonna give myself credit for a March workshop with the April 2 date, and shoot to get something else out there by the end of the month -- perhaps a completed draft of "Endurance" or a revision of "Honeymoon."

QUARTERLY GOALS:

Submit current stories / essays for publication.

This is my weekend to get "Dirty Darlene" out there again. Gonna change this to a MONTHLY GOAL so that more copies are out there, and so I can cycle in new work more quickly if and when new work is done. Last submissions 1/12/05 went to Swink, Open City, Tin House, One Story, and Zoetrope. Swink declined last week -- still waiting on the other four. Today I'm submitting to Center, Santa Monica Review, Bridge, Crab Creek Review, and Cream City.

2005-03-26

Progress Report: Chapter 2

Despite losing insane amounts of time to researching and implementing David Allen's Getting Things Done system* -- an entire workday, in fact (yes, I am aware of the irony) -- I have completed Chapter 2 on, and in fact, just slightly before, scheduled (initial deadline was March 31). Many discoveries made regarding structure of the novel as I pushed through this section:

(a) I'm 50 pages and 2 chapters into the mss, and in "Real Time" we've just progressed through a single day. Initial outliney-treatmenty-notes mapped the story out in terms of months, which I assumed would be chapter units, but it's clear now they won't -- which means my 11-12 chapter structure is probably out, too. Assuming I'm going to be working in the 20-30 chapter range now.

(b) That said, I think I need to make some changes to the the initial deadlines. Original plan, at 2 chapters a month, was set as followed:

9/1/ 05: Draft 1.0 (the messy, forward at all costs draft)
-- submit to readers

12/31/05: Draft 2.0 (the messy, everything moved around, cut, pasted, noted but not "polished" draft)
--structural changes as suggested by readers and my own notes

6/31/06: Draft 3.0 (first polished draft)
--submit to readers

10/31/06: Draft 4.0 (complete, finished mss ready for agent submission)

(i) Obviously, since I'm probably writing 20-30 chapters, I may need to push all those dates back a bit, though perhaps I'll write with such speed and discipline I won't have to lose much time -- in fact, as my writing stamina improves I may up the REQUIRED DAILY WORD COUNT to 1000 words from the 500 I'm currently pressing upon myself -- it's more psychologically daunting, to be sure, but the fact is my average wordcount has been hovering in the 1000-ish range over the last month anyway, so I know it's possible without burning me out or turning me into horrible, preoccupied, exhausted, irresponsible wife/friend (always always I am worrying about the WRITER/PERSON balance, especially in the face of new and wonderful marriage that I want to honor and strengthen as much as I possibly can DESPITE my anti-social writerly tendencies).

(ii) Bigger issue: I think I need to add another draft to the process. It occurs to me there's no way in hell I can release Draft 1.0 to trusted readers, considering I'm not re-reading nor even spell-checking as I go, and considering even as I scan the pages as they come out of the printer I can already see the ways certain paragraphs need to move and certain motives need punching up. However, I don't want to make the mistake I made with Hart, refusing to release it b/c I was so overcome with the flaws, and thus entering into a cycle of "this is so unfixable" paranoia that had me starting over COMPLETELY all the time until everything good about it had been diluted and lost. So, I'm thinking in the wake of Draft 1.0 I will give myself 1 MONTH and 1 MONTH ONLY to do BASIC CORRECTIONS ON THE CHAPTER LEVEL before going to my trusted readers with Draft 1.1. By no means will I attack overall, holistic mss. structure changes on the page -- I can keep a "kill list" and "structure thoughts" list, but the basic holistic structure of 1.1 must remain unchanged from 1.0. All I'm allowed to do to 1.0 is spell-check, move things around WITHIN CHAPTERS, and make margin notes for POSSIBLE CHANGES. This should effect the draft schedule thusly:

Draft 1.0 -- the messy, forward at all costs draft

Draft 1.1 -- the first reader-ready draft, still messy but slightly "fixed" (not to be confused with "polished") chapters, not affecting the shape of the whole

Draft 2.0 -- the huge, heavily notated structural overhaul draft, as suggested by readers notes and my own

Draft 3.0 -- the polished draft, based on structure of 2.0, to be submitted to readers

Draft 4.0 -- the complete, agent-ready draft

However, I'm not changing initial deadlines yet -- I'm going to press ahead at 2 chapters each month and see where that gets me by summer's end.

(c) But overall, I'm basically happy with where I'm going, story-wise. It's not perfect, I'm already questioning the start point, and the emotional plumbing leaves a lot to be desired, but I've begun to read The Modern Library Writer's Workshop and I think Stephen Koch is absolutely right on when he quotes Paul Johnson thusly:

"A bad novel is better than an unwritten novel, because a bad novel can be improved; an unwritten novel is defeat without a battle."


* More on GTD and my debilitating obsession with organizing processes in upcoming posts.

2005-03-09

New Personal Best

Chapter 1 of 2N is complete, at least as far as initial beginning-middle-end drafting goes. All of seven days work! I'm very very impressed with myself.

Am going to let it stay messy and move on to Chapter 2 tomorrow -- my best intentions are just to motor through as quickly as I can and get all necessary events and such down on paper all the way to story's end before I start prettying things up. Not even spell-checking, though I may have to do basic prose-prettying for various Writer's Groups just so I have something to submit . Will bring Chapter 1 to Sunday Group next week, and then I can always submit it again the following week for the floating Mon/Weds/Tues Group and just take all the notes and save them for when I'm through a draft and ready to look backwards. At that rate, if I can get another Chapter done this month, I'll be at least a chapter ahead of myself for Group reads, which would be good -- then at least I can see what's working and what's not as I move along. Granted, there is a risk here that listening to 10 people talk about current work will have me want to kill time going back for fixes -- so Chapter 1 will be the experiment. If hearing Group critiques slows momentum, I will cease bringing Chapters in to read and just soldier on in the dark. However, I do feel that my own personal sense of direction is much stronger than it was three or four years ago when I was first workshopping HART and getting sidetracked trying to deal with all and sundry suggestions. This time I'm older and more sure of my own perspective, plus this story is much better plotted forward and psychologically mapped than were early drafts of HART, so there you go.

2005-03-07

Took Me Long Enough, But ...

I have finally figured out, in less than a million words, what my Great Themes / Obsessions are. Sadly, they seem less great when boiled down thusly, but here I go:

The thing I always seem to be writing about, the thing that moves me to the page and informs every word, is love and compromise -- how men and women (and men and men, and women and women) negotiate intimacy, and how much compromising they do to pull it off, and how you figure out how much compromise is bearable/worth it, and how much is too much, and whether or not you can/should live with the way the other person changes you.

At least this is a minor improvement on my usual answer when people ask me what I write about: "Oh, well, you know. Love and stuff."

2005-02-28

Progress Report: February 2005

MONTH'S GOALS:

Number of Days I Meant to Write 500 words: 20
Number of Days I Actually Wrote 500 words: 12.5
Excuses & Days per Excuse: Move-In To New Office Days (2); Trip to Maui (4); Prep for Trip to Maui (1); "Thinking" (1); No Time (.5)

Writing Goals: 1 draft short story, 1 draft novel chapter
Actual Progress: About 20 single spaced pages of story that is slowly, slowly, achingly slowly and in many ways circular-ly, taking shape. More notes and ideas for novel, plus a little outline re-structuring, but no actual chapter-work undertaken.

Conclusions: Got better at carving out my 4 hours of sacred writing time as the month progressed. However, I tended to let my home life intrude even when I was at the office and wasted precious hours. New plan of attack has been instituted as of this weekend, and will be adhered to daily with timer in hand (no more messing around, time running short, aging accelerating, old friends out-publishing, etcetera etcetera):

Dithering and emailing: 30 minutes
500 Words attempt: 90 minutes
Dithering and emaling: 20 minutes
Finish 5oo Words* / Write/read for another project: 60 minutes
Read / Critique for friends: 30 minutes
Blog: 20 minutes
Back-up work, tidy office: 10 minutes

*if 500 words aren't reached by end of office time, somehow, somewhere, between laundry and dinner and endless housewifing, I must find time to complete them before day's end.

Did pretty well at all that today. Got 632 words in on story, so that was good, and read some diving essays I've wanted to read for novel, and started notes on a friend's novel mss which I finished reading last week (not as quickly as I'd hoped, but I am making an effort ;)).

2005-02-23

A Plug for "Says You"

By far and away the best programming on radio. Last night I stumbled upon it again after it went missing in the twice-annual KCRW schedule shuffle ... and was thrilled they'd started playing a brand new game:

Library Of Congress Categories.

Such as:

Q: "Psychology, regression -- Islands in Wake of Shipwreck, Plane Crash -- violence -- boys"

A: Lord of the Flies.

Points are awarded depending how quickly you can guess the book from its LOC subjects -- in this case, if you guessed the title based on only "Psych., reg." you get 10 points, then 8 if you add "Islands," and so on.

I found this to be wonderfully, fabulously, divertingly Fun -- Fun in an Aristotlean Absolute sort of way.

At Least If I Were On A Treadmill I'd Be Burning Calories

I have written 600 words reworking yesterday's lost pages, which I think were probably better, but who the hell knows. I can't say I feel much like going further forward, considering the trauma. Will read pages of a friend's mss and see how I feel after that.

At least I'm sort of caught up, though the sense of running in place is nauseating in the extreme.

FUCK FUCK FUCK

Dammit. Just as I was saying to Writer Friend that I thought I might be getting somewhere:

This morning I opened up the story I'm working onto discover NONE OF THE WORK I DID YESTERDAY was saved. Now, I know for a fact I saved it three times at the end of the day yesterday. AARGH. But stupid 'puter has seen fit to spirit it all away. I was finally feeling like I was getting somewhere with this story and BOOM! Gone. Lots of good good stuff that I worry I can not duplicate and which has me wanting desperately to throw in the fucking towel today. But I know I have to write my 500 words if my story and/or career and/or sense-of-self are ever going to get anywhere, so I'm stuck here attempting to pick up where this fucking Dell dinosaur has decided I should. DAMN IT. I was looking forward to actually MOVING FORWARD today and now I have to spend precious time back-tracking.

Fittingly, this story is titled "Endurance," and writing it has been an excruciating act of same.

New end-of-day rules for now on:
--Print new work
--upload to webmail folder
--save to hard drive
--Fridays: save to USB

AARGH AARGH AARGH AARGH.

Okay, enough screaming. Time to get back to work.

2005-02-09

Losing the Thread -- Writer Seeks Seams!

Daily word count becomes ever more difficult in face of impending Maui-trip (tomorrow!) and only half-set up office. Plus pressure to produce new story by 2/15 or so for Group on 2/20 makes me feel completely panicked that I've forgotten how to knit a story together. I have characters, ideas, ending, but I worry that I lack plot, so rather than write and write and write my way through it until plot emerged (the only solution, of course) I spent the day obsessively checking my email and arranging office items to satisfy requirements of feng-shui. I now have manifestation boards in my career, love, helpful people, and creativity centers. Desk arrangements reflect same. How LA-lame is that?

However, in the last draft of this entry, which I somehow managed to erase, I decided to stop trying to write/avoid the story and attack it in smaller pieces -- to wit:

WRITE ABOUT WILL'S ROUTINE (b/c falling in love with Mei Feng needs to disrupt it, and I can't exactly have her disrupt a routine I haven't figured out, can I?)

Also, I realized in a far more eloquent way than I'm about to re-express (damn stupid fucking wireless "connection") that it's not because of Benji that Will decides to give up Mei -- it's not Benji who is so desperate for routine, but Will, it turns out -- he's the one who is scared of what the future holds, he's the one who worries that big changes augur big ills. Benji's just his excuse.

I will stitch this together if it kills me, and fast, dammit!

Must re-post this right away before connexion craps out again.

Then may abandon office and go home and start packing, and try to come up with 500 words on Will's routine at home tonight.

Bon voyage to me!

2005-01-31

From Under the Pile of Boxes

For a tiny, 50 sq ft kind of space, I seem to have collected a shitload of stuff. Packing up to get all moved in to new space many miles from here ... goal is to be settled in by weekend and ready to be raring in new office by Monday.

Meanwhile, I have been coffee-shop writing the last 10 days or so, and it's been alright ... got some of the Mr. Orman story done, and am well into the travel essay I've been kicking around since July.

First Month of 2005 Progress Report Check-in:

FINISH DRAFT OF 2N CHAPTER: Incomplete but in progress.
FINISH DRAFT OF SHORT STORY: Incomplete but in progress.
4 HOURS DAILY OFFICE TIME: Transmuted into "500 words daily" -- that said, mission accomplished!

Ok, so I didn't get all I wanted done done. HOWEVER, I did write 500 words each and every weekday plus 3 Saturdays, so I am patting myself on the back and letting this month be a wash. There is something to be said for being midway through chapter, story, and essay: to wit, it's a hell of a lot better than NOT.

Goals for February:

SET UP NEW OFFICE -- complete with plants and candles
FINISH DRAFT OF 2N CHAPTER -- and get into NEXT CHAPTER
FINISH DRAFT OF SHORT STORY
FINISH DRAFT OF TRAVEL ESSAY
WORKSHOP TRAVEL ESSAY

With that, I return to the packing up.

2005-01-22

Saturday Progress Report

Feeling good-and-focused enough that I dragged my ass to the office on Saturday, though that's not my usual plan. However, 2005 GOALS require I complete drafts of 1 chapter (2N) and 1 story (collection) each month, and while I think the chapter completion likelihood is mostly sewn-up, until this morning, I hadn't started doing the actual writing-writing of my story.

So I struggled for the last 3 hours with "Endurance" and came up with the first 500 words plus a semi-structure, but man o' man was it tough. I'd hoped to be out of here by 1 pm so I could spend some time on the treadmill, but it's almost 2 now, so time has run too short (aren't I so punny we could all die). Must go forage for nourishment then pretty myself up for multiple cocktail parties this evening beginning just after 4. Oh the life.

Plans for Sunday work session are slightly up in the air. I can't let another week happen in which I don't grocery shop and cook for my husband; the guilt as well as the discomfort not knowing how/what we're going to eat turns out to be too much for both of us. So tomorrow I have to plan our menus, get to the store, and then make something like soup I can freeze for quick dinner. Hopefully I can also get 500 words in, but I'm not going to beat myself up forever if it doesn't happen. I need some down-time, after all, and the real plan is only to write-write 5 days/week anyway.

2005-01-20

Process and Product

Schedule a little thrown off by killing a few hours this morning between barn and meeting Husband at car dealer. (This Week's Lesson: Nissans even suckier than Fords.) Spent the time scribbling away at Starbux, netting seven long-hand pages, roughly 180 words per page, inventing two new characters who are supporting players in 2N.

Despite writerly thrills with this creation, and despite believing that more than sufficed for my daily word count minimum, I came to office 1) to escape house, which is filled by Husband, his germs (the poor man is dripping out of every facial orifice), and the horrifying spectacle of the televised CORONATION ($40M? Did they forget there's a war on and hundreds of thousands of tsunami survivors have nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat? Not too mention the general end-of-the-world state we seem to be in ...); 2) to stay in the habit of weekdays at the office; 3) because I really thought I might get 500 ADDITIONAL words done!

Sometimes life intervenes, however. Life, in this case, takes shape of Dear Old Friend, who is sick again and back in chemo. He's been one of my heroes most of my life, but if this latest challenge doesn't make him a contender for the World Champion Superhero title, I don't know what could. (Ok, well, I do have a couple of ideas, but I think after this he's pretty much off the hook and all we needy, anonymous Metropoli ought to go bother somebody else.) Anyway, I spent much of the morning emailing him, and now I just don't want to work anymore today.

2005-01-19

Feng Shui Foolish

Got to the office good and early today but still managed to kill nearly 90 minutes surfing the internet. Distraction inspired by an article in the Times today about a woman who Feng Shui-ed the apartment she shares with her husband. I'm not a feng-shui-er (in a supreme case of funny, I recently de-cluttered a feng-shui set I'd been given years ago). HOWEVER, I am about to have to move offices, and it occured to me that in setting up whatever new space I end up with, I might as well try a little feng-shui-ing, because seriously, every little bit helps, and it's not like it can really hurt.

Plus I live in LA and every once in awhile you have to give in to your flakier instincts. For instance, I periodically give in to yoga for a couple of weeks at a time before dropping it again.

Anyway, I ended up feng-shui surfing for a ridiculous amount of time today before finally throwing money at the problem and buying two feng shui books.

Despite my new-found fear that my blue desk may be "drowning" creativity--is that why I write from my red easy chair? And should my red chair actually be yellow? Where do you buy a less-precious water fountain?--I still managed 515 words on 2N.

And while I'm talking new office decoration, I think I deserve a better desk chair. I keep saying I'll cash in for a real chair when my novel's done, but I think that might be slightly bass-ackwards. As long as I have to sit in the fucking thing every day, shouldn't I enjoy sitting in it? Wouldn't I be more productive without the leg cramps and back ache?

And DWR sells the one I want in a lovely lime green. If I put a lime green chair with a blue desk, does that cancel out the "drowning" aspect of the desk, considering that green-blue colors are good for artists?

2005-01-18

Happy 6 Month Anniversary, Mr Husband!

611 words on 2N today, but it was a pulling-teeth coupla hours (3, to be exact). I had meant to do a little work on my new short story, "SIN," but scenes have yet to present themselves in my brain, despite all the notes I've been making for it, and my battle with 2N has me pretty mind-numbed ... so instead I'm going to go spend 45 minutes on the treadmill.

BTW: Starbucks is now putting little literary quotes on their cardboard cups.

2005-01-13

Getting It Back On ...

Ok, so yesterday I was still running around with what we prep-schooler's used to call "'rents"(perhaps because they paid ours?) but I still managed 2 hours of my own time, in which I made last polish to "Darlene," made 20 copies at Kinkos, and submitted it to a bunch of places, all of which liked "Soap" enough to send me lovely handwritten notes about the reasons they couldn't use it but would like to see more in the future ... well, the future may have taken damn near three years, but I ain't gonna sneeze at that, so what the hell, the future is now.

All that said, I am expecting the 'rents to check in around an hour from now ... have been to the barn and the grocery store, done a load of laundry, and assembled the lasagna for tonight's Parental Send-Off and Danielle-Welcome Party. While assembling said lasagna, I had all sorts of fabulous insights for my new story, so I am going to go see how much I can get done in the possibly an hour until I'm back on 'rental call.

2005-01-11

Consider Myself Spanked

Writer Friend sent me an email ass-kicking berating me for letting parents slow the roll, so despite wanting to curl up in a little ball and DIE for the 90 minutes I had to myself today, I sat down with the computer from 4:30 to 6. Revised character studies for 2N, and finally polished my new draft of "Darlene" to a finish. Not a whole lot got done, word-count wise, but finally being in another state of "done" with "Darlene" is nothing to be sneezed at. 'Specially b/c wonderful Husband's response to my being done was to say, "Print it out, I'll read it now."

He's a good good man.

On Books, Because Writing Has Halted Due to Parental Influx

First off, if you've read DFW's Broom of the System, which yes, I did force myself to finish because I was in snowy Meeker, and really, there was nothing else to do, somebody, please explain it to me. I didn't get it at all.

But on the other hand, great book: Meg Wolitzer's The Wife. Too lazy to hyperlink today -- go look it up yourself. Perfect length for 2-hr flight from Denver to LA, and if you're a writer, it really does "the writing life" to a fantastic (by which I mean, totally imaginative to the extreme heights of possible career trajectory) and absorbing degree. I hate to fly, but the book kept me tuned in enough to not flip out entirely, and considering my general choice of flight reading is back issues of New York Mag and whatever tabloid has Jessica Simpson on the cover, that really is saying a lot. (Fair warning: if you're not, yourself, a wife, The Wife may not resonate as deeply for you ... don't say I didn't warn you. But for me, thought it was great, since I spend all my time thinking about issues like being a wife and/or writing. FYI, last year's I Don't Know How She Does It was similarly successful for me, so there you go.)

2005-01-08

On the Loss of A Room Of My Own

Thursday, I was informed I am losing the lease on my very inexpensive, very convenient-to-the-gym office space. (Come to think of it, that's probably why my work has slowed to a halt.)

Unmoored is not even remotely the right word to use here. How is it I finally get my bearings again just in time to be EVICTED?

Aargh. Need new office space ASAP. How annoying. I'd start looking this week, but wrinkle in this plan is the slight chance Husband may win exciting new job in NYC and we may be moving camp. Double argh. So I can't really sign a new lease until I know where I'm going to be living six months from now. Triple quadruple argh.

Famous Last Words

Ok, all those things I said late Wednesday about all those things I was going to accomplish ... poof. Some combination of hypnosis (snow on mountains, light on snow) and hormones has felled me in my tracks.

But I'm still getting a lot of reading done. Abandoned Hedwig & Berti "toot sweet," as I like to say. I don't need "charming" Holocaust novels, thank you very much.

But Thursday night I read Lily Tuck's The News From Paraguay, and I'm here to tell you, it absolutely deserved the Nat'l Book Award. Totally absorbing, lovely prose, fascinating story, time/place fabulously rendered. Go Lily Tuck. All naysayers should just be quiet.

Have moved on to Xmas present from Husband, who upon hearing me say I was no fan of David Foster Wallace--Husband has been re-reading A Supposedly Fun Thing ...--offered me a copy of DFW's first effort, The Broom of the System, and said, "Try this."

Began it last night on a couch in the living room next to a roaring fire and was having NONE of it. Moved into the bedroom and it began to grow on me. So there you go. I'm only 145 pages in of this nearly 500 page paperback, so the jury's still out, but I'm sticking with it so far. It's a little bit Vonnegut-meets-Pynchon-meets-DeLillo, but since I haven't actually read any other DFW besides the first 30 pages of Infinite [Book]--has anyone ever read the whole thing, now, really, I mean, every single phrase, no skimming?--and the lobster article he wrote for Gourmet mag this summer (or was it Bon Appetit?)--maybe that's how all DFW is, anyway? I, for one, have little to no clue, really, except to find author photos featuring men in knit caps slightly ridiculous (see the photo in A Supposedly Fun Thing ... and I'm sure you'll agree).

And while we're on the subject, Lily Tuck's author photo sucked, too. How severe can one woman be? I mean, she might as well have been wearing a wimple.

2005-01-05

On Being Home

One of the benefits of being in any of my mother's houses is she always has a large stack -- more precisely, stacks and stacks and stacks -- of hardcover novels around, usually a) new; b) recently dissected by the NYRoB (my mother actually reads the NYRoB, unlike me, who before cancelling my subscription years back would just let it pile and pile until the pile was yellow and easy to clear out of my tiny West Village apt); or c) totally over my head, usually Russian or South American in origins. (This is a woman, who, in the last four days, while suffering the flu, has been watching Chabrol films on DVD, and describes "Before Sunrise" as "fourth rate Rohmer"). She does her shopping at Three Lives, which is about three feet from her apartment in NY, and she ships boxes of her finds out here to Meeker, which is why late last night I was curled up with The Master--final impression: gorgeous book, a perfect Jamesian ghost-story that is totally illuminating, and fittingly, haunting--and why today I finally got a gander at ...Max Tivoli. Wasn't as thrilled with that one as the Toibin; I felt that reading through the first two-thirds of Tivoli was harder work than a work that I wanted, but the ending was so lovely and heartbreaking I think overall it's a success. I cried, despite feeling slightly annoyed at how exhausting / ennervating I found the actual reading of the book to be, so clearly I cared more than I supposed. He snuck up on me, Mr. Tivoli did.

Which is pretty impressive, considering that when I was a child my best friend and I were convinced we were spawn of the planet Xabadiaxalo, where people grown down, and that we'd been in a scientific accident when we were what would pass for 11 here, and our aging process reversed, so that we were now cursed to grow up. Our fellow Xabadiaxalans sent us to Earth so we wouldn't feel like freaks. We wrote several novellas about our lost lives, and illustrated them too.

Anyway, snow came in last night and went all day and we have inchees and inches out here. Something about the snow made it tough to work most of the day, though I did get lots done on the 2N treatment late this afternoon. Tomorrow afternoon I spend some more time with Darlene.

Friday I think a bit more about characters for 2N, work up better histories for them that I can refer to later on in the process, when I get confused (which I know will happen, so better to get that packed away now). What is Daniel's actual family background? I sort of like the idea of Daniel's parents and sister being in a cult somewhere in the Northwest, whereas I think Nic has to be wealthily orphaned, sort of like my sister's old friend Thomas Shaw, who lives directly opposite my parents in the Village and who was left a Picasso that you can see hanging inside his living room, if you're gazing carefully from across the street in my parents' living room, which my sister and I, sometimes, are.

Then, Saturday, start the actual writing of 2N Ch. 1.

Then, when parents leave LA on the 14th, I need to turn my attentions to finishing Ch. 1 and having a finished finished finished Darlene to workshop, plus a new draft of a new story, if I'm not to get behind my New Year's resolutions just out of the gate.

MY NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS

* Produce a new chapter draft each month, plus a new story draft for collection each month
* Workshop a new story for collection each month
* Submit stories to lit mags in batches, quarterly (March 1, June 1, Sept 1, Dec 1)
* As soon as draft of 2N is complete, find readers -- (no endlessly tinkering with early drafts, as I did on Hart! Tinkering can be done AFTER first round of notes received ... must avoid losing steam in anyway I can this time ...)

To bed, perhaps with a copy of a novel called Hedwig and Berti that my mother handed me a few days ago -- comes highly recommended by Three Lives, but since I don't really know the "new" guy there, I'm not sure what that means, yet. Haven't been in there myself in ages, since I'm trying to watch the profligate spending habits and find that anytime I'm in a really good bookshop I walk out with too many hardcovers. (How else to explain my walking into Skylight just before Xmas to get a copy of Black Beauty for my cleaning lady's daughter, and ending up lugging home Dave King's The Ha-ha? Actually, there is an explanation: I knew him obliquely at Columbia, back in the day. Also, while we're on the subject, it was a pretty good book--he set himself a difficult task, narrating it through the eyes of a hero who can't talk nor read nor write but is otherwise completely able-minded, and I found that, despite this, he succeeded in finding a way for that hero to drive the narrative, not just have it happen around him. And he plumbed him deeply, too, and didn't beatify him in anyway either--he had warts on him, and he was totally realized, and though parts were a little cute--did his room-mate have to be an Asian-Texan soup-maker with an industry going on in the kitchen? did the kid in his charge have to be half-black? ((that said, it does make the movie-version seem inevitable, and I suppose that's what we want, right, we novelists who writing in a sea of other hopefuls are hoping somehow to hit it bigger than them? I can't blame him ... I mean, my agent said to me, when I first pitched her the plot of Hart, "who do you see starring in the movie?"))--it was overall a good novel about which, I kept saying as I read it, "Wow, he did a really lovely job," and if you don't believe me, ask Husband, who had to suffer through my saying it over and over again.)

2005-01-04

Progress Report

Got a pretty good plot-line map together today, so tomorrow I'm going to use it to fill out my existing treatment for 2N. Ending is still a little hard for me, despite the fact that the final scene was the first image I conceived for this entire story. Problem is, I think one of the characters must succumb to Hodgkins if the final image is going to work ... however, since this character takes a lot from a close friend who recently fought his own bout with cancer, and has made it through, killing off fictional character comes hard. But it's really beautiful, the final scene, if he dies ... really. Hmm.

Otherwise, spent the day gorging myself on left-over sweets from my parents' New Year's bash (my mother trucks in the entire contents of Dean & Deluca when she comes out here) and reading The Master, the Booker short-listed novel by Colm Toibin. Am loving it, not just for the lovely prose and imagination-mirroring-meandering of its narrative, but because I feel Henry James' pain (at least as it's created by Toibin) -- how hard it is to balance life with art, and not feel you are missing something at one, by favoring the other ...

OK, tommorow: 2N Treatment work
Thursday: Dirty Darlene work -- finish new draft!
Friday: Start working on 2N Chapter 1

2005-01-03

Slight change of plans and weather

Have extended my Colorado trip by 5 days, realizing that in lovely snowy Meeker, pop. SMALL, distractions NONE, I really have nothing to do but WRITE -- it's quiet here, and since I'm not home, I have no responsibilities to house, husband, or even cats and horse. So I'm digging in tomorrow, at what's essentially my own private Yaddo. Hope to get far enough along that I don't even suffer the smallest twinge of resentment when my parents descend on LA next week, making both work and workout time impossible.

Which is not to say I will be doing any real exercising here. Perhaps I'll walk up and down a hill or two tomorrow. OH! I can resume my walks! There is lots of lovely walking to be done in snowy Meeker.

PLAN FOR TOMORROW AND 5 DAYS FOLLOWING:

Arise, eat, email, shower, WORK, eat, email, WALK, READ, WRITE LETTERS, email, eat, sleep.

Tough life, this.