But just for a moment! I wouldn’t want to be all greedy about breathing or anything.
Today is the last day of April, the day I intended to have this revision finished. It’s not finished. I’m trying not to let that feel like failure, but it’s not easy. I worked hard, which was the entire point of setting a fake deadline for myself, and that is nothing to belittle.
I can’t help but feel, however, that writing this sequel has been much, much harder than it needs to be. Writing a book is always like running a marathon, but this time it has been like running a marathon while carrying an elephant.
Thing is, I feel virtually certain it’s an unnecessary elephant. What IS it, exactly? Why am I carrying it? How do I set it down? Can I at least get it to stop trumpeting in my ear?
These are questions I can’t seem to answer. I just keep staggering on, hoping eventually my arms will give out and I’ll just drop the damn thing.
I’m not sure why, but this essay cheered me up: All Books Have Genders. The last paragraph, in particular, is something I really needed to hear right now, as I bang my head against my keyboard and shout, “Why am I not better at this after all this time??”
I’m still learning to write this book. We’ve made some good progress, coming to understand each other a bit better, over the last few weeks, but then I have days like yesterday where I finally had to admit to myself that the scenes I was trying so heroically to save weren’t worth saving and that I needed to scrap them and fill the GAPING HOLE with something else instead.
If Neil Gaiman finds writing a convoluted process, then maybe it’s ok if I do too.
In other news: doggies make us feel better! Here’s mine.
AWWWW! That’s how she sleeps, sometimes, all folded up like an umbrella. I took her out to the dog park today and she was just so cheerful, despite the rain.
Maybe I can be, too. Back to work…
Some days the best analogy I can come up with for my writing process is that it’s like the formation of sedimentary rock. I put down layers over a long period of time and they slowly harden into stone.
That’s the time-scale: geologic time. Don’t think in years, think in epochs. I find this discouraging sometimes.
I just joined a choir, in an effort to get back at the world. Er, I mean, because I wanted some very different art to practice regularly without the kind of (geologic) pressure writing involves these days. Last night was the first session and I really enjoyed it, even though I suspect I sometimes sounded like a confused cow.
Anyway, I was driving home with one of my writing buddies (who also just joined – so she’s a singing buddy now too). I was telling her I had a pretty good time writing the last couple weeks, but especially yesterday. “I suddenly realized they could have a conversation about ethics,” I said. “Just a little overlay of philosophy on this scene.”
“See?” she said.
I didn’t see.
“Layers,” she said. “Like we talked about. You write in layers. It’s like oil painting, where you have to block all the major shapes and the lights and darks, and then you start to go through and start putting down other layers that you find more interesting. Right now you’re at the philo-sopho-layer…” She made a circular motion with her hand, which was probably supposed to mime painting, but instead reminded me of making pizza.
“Philoso-sauce,” I suggested. “Then I can sprinkle on the philoso-sausage.”
“Exactly!” she said, and we laughed about that for a good long time.
Pizza is certainly a tastier image than sandstone or oil paintings, and still pretty apropos. I’ve got my crust, certainly, and the sauce is mostly down (I just scraped it off one quarter and have to spread it round again). And no, I am never happy with cheese pizza. There always has to be more than that: Canadian bacon and caramelized onions and delicious chunks of eggplant (the eggplant is the theme, of course; it pops up when you least expect it and makes you WEEP). One final pass with the Oregano of Elegant Writing, and then I can pass it off to my editor.
Who will tell me it’s half-baked, ha ha ha. Or else he’ll find a big old hair in the sauce. Erg.
At least this analogy gets me off of that geologic time-scale, which I was seriously bumming me out.
Sometimes a song just reaches out of nowhere and grabs me. Here’s Steve Hackett and Richie Havens, bringing the awesome to “How Can I?” —
I was listening to this all morning, but the video is somehow even better. I like the way they’re facing each other, like this is a private conversation we’re listening in on, and the way they sometimes mirror each other swaying back and forth. Steve looks kind of amused, like he’s never heard these lyrics before, even though I’m pretty sure he wrote them. Maybe he’s suddenly realizing he doesn’t know what they mean, or else all that smoke in the air has made him notice that whoa, the lyrics are deep. Really, really deep, man.
All I know is I’d watch these guys all day if I could. But I can’t. That’s why I’m handing them over to you.
This week I’m doing what my friend Jay Allen calls “Social Media Detox”, staying off of Facebook, Twitter, and (hardest for me) GoodReads.
I don’t know about you, but I find that if I’m not careful, social media can eat away much of my day. It’s easy and instantly gratifying and superficially more enjoyable than work of any kind. It’s like eating Cheetos: my mouth wants more, even if I’m not really hungry. Er. Not that I have ever spent an entire day eating Cheetos. It’s an analogy, though I confess I’m having trouble figuring out which part of social media equates to cheesy orange fingers.
My point is, I’m bad at just having a little. I’m bad at getting myself to metaphorically eat my veggies and exercise and brush my teeth when the alternative is Endless Metaphorical Cheetos.
Everything else is less passive and more difficult. I’m like a turtle sometimes; I draw my head in away from the world. Social media enables that in a particularly devious manner, giving me the illusion of engaging with the world. Look at all these people! I’m interacting with them! And yet I’m not. When I contrast how easy it is to engage with people on Facebook versus engaging with the humans right in front of me – or with my dirty kitchen, or my art – I see these things are not equivalent at all.
I need to be in the world. I LIKE to be in the world, I like difficult things, but sometimes I need to take some time and remind myself why.
I’ll tell you where: in the shower.
If the world ever gets to the point where we can no longer take showers, due to water shortages or zombie apocalypse or whatever, that’s the end of my career. For serious.
I don’t know what it is, but in the shower my brain just opens up and all the ideas fall out (this is why it would be a bad idea for me to take one during the zombie apocalypse, see. The rest of the time my brain is protected by my very thick skull).
Various friends have suggested a diving slate for writing the ideas on, but I have a feeling that wouldn’t help. It’s not like I get out of the shower and forget all the ideas. I think if I could physically write IN the shower – with a waterproof laptop, say – then the shower would no longer be magical. It would be just like sitting in front of the computer, doing the work, except wet. I think I have to be completely unable to work in order for my brain to cut loose like that, that it’s my brain’s own special way of thumbing its nose at me.
And hey, you want to thumb your nose at me, Brain, be my guest. Whatever keeps you jolly.
Meanwhile, here’s a paean to my shower, from the Pirates of Penzance. It starts at about 1:40. (And yes, that is Kevin Kline, all dashingly mustachio’d.)
You may be having trouble understanding what they’re saying. Here are the lyrics:
Hail, Shower-head! O gurg’ling muse
Thou giv’st writers the power to chuse!
Hail, flowing font of good ideas!
All hail, all hail! Now let’s go eat some cheese!
WHAT. Stop looking at me like that. Sometimes even W. S. Gilbert had a tough time finding a rhyme.
Yesterday, shortly after I wrote the previous post, a brand new jug of liquid detergent fell off of our washing machine, landed on its lid, and cracked open. Every drop of detergent – all 2.95 litres – oozed onto the floor of the closet that houses our washing machine. Half went under the machine; half went to the rest of the closet, where we store chairs, tools, linens, and my sewing machine.
We didn’t notice this had happened until my husband was taking the dog out. The detergent had oozed under the closet doors and across the tiles of our entrance hallway. It was dye-free detergent, so at first we thought it was water, that the washing machine had leaked. I got a towel to wipe it with and discovered the slimy truth almost immediately.
My first thought, seriously, was, Well, at least we don’t need to get the washer repaired. My second thought was: Uh. Now what?
Adding water was only going to create mountains of unmanageable suds. This had to be scooped up “dry”, so scoop I did, down on my hands and knees with a big rubber spatula.
The entire operation took about four hours. Soap-covered tile is as slick as ice. I am thoroughly sore.
Of course, it took me until the point where my legs were shaking to finally realize, Oh, I could just kneel on a towel, right in the ooze. I don’t have to squat precariously balanced on my toes. Also: Who cares if I get this stuff all over my pants? I can wash them. I won’t even need to add any soap.
I suppose shouldn’t describe the viscous black sludge you get when many years’ worth of accumulated sub-washer dirt combines with liquid detergent. No, I won’t describe that at all. I will dream about it for weeks though.
No matter how many exciting and wonderful things may come from being a writer, my life also consists – and will always consist – of me on my hands and knees in a dimly-lit closet, scraping up snotlike, grimy goo with a spatula. I hope it will usually be metaphorical goo and a metaphorical spatula, but you never know. The point is, there’s something comforting in the prospect of absurd unglamorousness – stories are born out of just that kind of slime.