Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In the Writing Cycle

Last night, for two hours, I wrote at white heat. It was a short story about being trapped, in a very literal sense. What I came up with was some of the best work I think I've done, but that might have been first-blush delirium. It's the first fiction I remember writing in years where I had the capacity to get across exactly what I wanted to get across from beginning to end, not just in fits and spurts. I was making myself heard. I am itching to read it again and see if I was wrong about this. But I know, I know, wait a few days. Make it foreign.

This is the second quality thing I've written in a few weeks that has not been my novel. (I am giving myself a pass for nightly work on the novel when I do other writing work during the designated time. It's all going into the same ocean, I figure.) I admit I'm wondering a little if my brain is clawing out for other things to accomplish rather than working word by word on this albatross of mine. I'll work and slave and write a Pushcart-winning short story rather than one more sentence on THIS MONSTROSITY. It's not really a monstrosity, but it's taking on the form of a minotaur in my mind, something mutated and wretched but strong and cunning.

It's not that working on the novel is no fun (although it's not much fun), it's just that it takes me such a goddamn long time to oil the machine. By the time it's done clanking and wheezing and making expensive noises, and I'm clicking along with I-think-I-can, and actually having fun, it's time for bed. And as the draft gets longer, I feel like it gets more and more out of my control. I'm up over 57,000 words, which is cause for celebration, but I keep thinking of elements that I failed to put in two chapters ago that I will need to refer to now, and putting another pin on the mental bulletin board: that, too, will have to happen in the first revision. The first revision is looking to be as much work as the first draft, at this point.

The last several weekends I have tried to use to their best advantage in front of the laptop. It was only a couple of months ago that Matt and I sat down and hashed out a plan for keeping the house cleaner than we had been keeping it, and now all of that has gone to hell as I obsess over the book. I feel like a jerk. Matt doesn't care at all, bless him, but it leads me back to the old despair about balancing my life: I'll never have a clean house, a reasonably enjoyable job, a rich and rewarding inner life, and enough education, all at the same time.

...Does anybody have all those things at the same time, actually? Maybe my standards are just unrealistic.

Anyway. The lack of balance has its place here, too; I am excited that I'm finally keeping a non-anonymous blog, and although the name of this blog indicates what its main subject is supposed to be, I am still planning to write a lot about my life as well as my writing. But I'm in a phase of writing right now - it's all I want to think about, all I want to talk about. This goes back to that thing I dislike, and attempt on a regular basis to accept, about myself - the cyclic nature of my interests, heaving up and down like the tides. When I'm in a movies phase, I can't shut up about movies, and it's the only way I spend my time. When it's cooking, that's all I think about, getting home to cook. It's embarrassing to be so effusive about something that is then in the rear seat of my life until the next  cycle, it leads to questions from well-meaning friends that I don't know how to answer, and I can see it happening every night now as Matt listens to me with infinite patience about today's work on the book. Or the thing I just read in The Fire in Fiction (a book which is changing for the better the whole way I approach my work). Or the magazine I found that I want to submit to.

He tells me that he loves my enthusiasm and likes learning about the new things that I learn with every phase. My self-doubt stamps this claim out like a rhino with a fire. Surely no one is so interested in a dilettante like me.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like you are doing great in the writing department! I remember feeling similarly about the last manuscript I finished...it seems that once you hit a certain word limit it starts taking on a life of its own, as you put it, "more and more out of control". Also YES you simply must lower your expectations about a clean house. I have found that (granted, there are two kids in the mix) out of the following four elements, I can maintain three well. Everything else goes to shot. 1. Full time job 2. Clean house and homecooked dinners 3. Reading and relaxation time 4. Writing and freelancing

Anonymous said...

shot -> shit

Katharine Coldiron said...

I kind of liked "everything goes to shot".