Observations from my writing desk: February 12, 2017

Location: In front of the big window in my living room, sitting in a green leather, studded wooden chair, my back supported by a pillow that looks just like my cat, with my feet propped up on the lower level of a 5-foot cat condo.

Hello again, my twice-yearly visited blog. You have been resuscitated because I have a deadline: In May, I’m attending a three-day writer’s conference, and during the event I will meet with an agent who will have reviewed the first 20 pages of my novel. This is important because I love deadlines; I cannot function without them. With no accountability, I will transform into a slug: naked, slimy, and doomed to be annihilated by excessive salt. Pretty picture, huh?

Luckily, I have this deadline, which means I will absolutely, positively, without any sliver of doubt complete a comprehensive draft of this book. I’m already on draft #49567, but the current draft resembles only about .04% of its first incarnation. Amazing how that happens. And as I complete the final chapter of this draft, I’ve already begun researching and taking notes on what changes I’ll make to the next draft. I also have to do my full time, paid job when not working on my flights of fancy. But the two cannot exist without each other at this point in my life.

This meeting with an agent does not guarantee anything but useful feedback, and that’s what I desperately need. Should I continue with this book? Should I make some major changes? Is it ready to be shipped off to agents for consideration? Should I bury it in my parent’s backyard will all of the fish I had growing up? (RIP.)

Not to mention the many workshops and lectures I’ll be able to attend that weekend. I can’t wait. It feels good to keep moving forward, to keep feeling like I’m getting closer to one of my biggest goals in life.

Life goals for me are basically the following:

  • Help and love my family
  • Be healthy
  • Write that book. Love it no matter what happens.

 

 

Observations from my writing desk, Friday 10/18/13

Writing desk location: Same row of desks in the library, but different desk.

Observations:

  • It’s still too warm outside today, in one of those hard-to-dress ways. It’s about a mile walk from my apartment to the library, and while walking in patches of shade I feel chilled and regret not bringing a hoodie, but then as soon as I step into the sun I start to overheat and regret not putting my hair up. At some moments of overlap, I am both sweaty and goosepimpled. These changes in temperature make it hard to think of anything else along my short walk to the library. Life is so hard.
  • I stopped at a local coffee shop that has terrible hours that don’t coincide with my internal clock. Coffee shops should stay open past 3 p.m. They favor the early risers, the morning people, the folks who don’t brew their own cups each morning. Bah. Anyways, they have a huge selection of iced coffees, and I got a pumpkin. I hoped it would help regulate the tiny heat waves I walked through on my way to the library.
  • Someone opened the giant window next to the desks that we aren’t supposed to open. I see the librarian glaring over toward me, assuming I’m the troublemaker who dared open the window. It wasn’t me, but I’ll be damned if I let them close it. The breeze feels amazing, and I’m pretending it’s blowing in straight from the ocean that’s just over 2 miles away.
  • I thought writing in here was perhaps more of a waste of time/opportunity to procrastinate, but I actually got a lot of work done on my draft yesterday after rambling here. Here’s hoping I have the same success today.
  • Today is my last day of unemployment, and I’m determined to make use of it by finishing another chapter. I already finished a book this morning, made oatmeal for maybe the first time in 10 years, showered, shaved my legs, scribbled down a grocery list, and made the arduous walk over to the library, so I feel like it’s been a pretty good day so far.
  • It’s so sunny at my desk that I’m tempted to wear my sunglasses.
  • Still only have one finger nail painted.

“the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really sh*tty first drafts.”

…quoth the illustrious author Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, her guide/scripture on writing.  The chapter this quote comes from, appropriately titled “Sh*tty First Drafts”, completely changed how I write.  Before reading this chapter, I would just sit at my computer, paralyzed by the fear of writing a terrible, incoherent sentence.  As a result, my fingers would dangle idly above the keyboard, and I would feel like a complete failure.  I’d then eat a snack or three, feel bad for myself, and watch something embarrassing on Netflix.  This chapter, and the rest of the wisdom Lamott packs into her ESSENTIAL book on writing, helped me to realize that it wasn’t writing crappy sentences that would make me a failure.  Not writing at all, with my back crooked over the keyboard like a fleshy gargoyle on my Lazy-boy perch, is what would make me a failure.  The gist of this chapter, as Lamott writes, is this:

All good writers write [sh*tty first drafts]. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.

I know, none of this is breaking news for others like me, slogging through a draft of something that may or may not be publishable.  However, as I’m riding the wave of revising my very, very sh*tty first draft, It’s helpful to remember that it’s OK, there’s still hope; I just need to keep my fingers moving.

[Also, quick tip: it helps to paint your finger nails wild colors to keep things even more interesting as you spend hours staring at the computer.  Every now and then you’ll look down and impress yourself with how good your finger tips look.  This positive feeling will course through your body, up and down every limb, making the neglected stubble on your legs stand on end, your ears lobes warm, and your lips to spread into a small, smug smile.  (These are all great things, trust me.  I know.)  Hopefully, if you’ve painted your nails well enough, that good feeling will wash across your brain and release some more positive waves.  Before you know it, those waves have unlocked some hidden crannie of creativity, thus causing new material to surge back out of your head, down your goose-bumped limbs toward those fabulous finger nails which are frantically typing out all of those great ideas.]

In the chapter, Lamott writes:

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions
come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go — but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.

In my copy of Bird by Bird, I drew an arrow to the “Mr. Poopy Pants” line and wrote “hahaha!” But it’s true.  No one has to see what wild ideas you scribble into that draft.  Feel free to get weird.  In the first draft of my current novel, I really struggled with character names, but I tried not to let it slow me down.  I figured I would meet a cat or a coworker at some point with a name that just clicked.  So for the duration of the first draft, the antagonist is literally called “bad boy” while the love interest is simply called “boy.” And ya know? It worked fine for me.  I’m happy to say that boy and bad boy have since been christened real names.

While Ann Lamott’s book is still hugely relevant to the writing life almost 20 years after it was published, her sentiment of allowing oneself to let go and write terribly was echoed in an interview Karen Russell had with The Daily Beast recently. Russell, who is currently my favorite contemporary writer and author of the amazingly original Swamplandia and assorted short stories, fessed up that she too must strive to write without self-censorship in order for the story to progress:

 “I feel like I’m groping my way forward line to line. Writing badly is also hard—you need to give yourself permission to write badly, just to get something down…I think [my writing’s] bad so much of the time. The periods where writing feels effortless and intuitive are, for me, as I keep lamenting, rare. But I think that’s probably the common ratio of joy: despair for most writers, and I definitely think that if you can make peace with the fact that you will likely have to throw out 90 percent of your first draft, then you can relax and even almost enjoy “writing badly.

Karen Russell’s writing is some of the most beautiful, lyrical prose I have ever read.  When I read her stories,  I’m constantly asking myself how she comes up with her descriptions, so vivid and textured.  Based on this interview, which I’m assuming was done in person, she is also naturally articulate and poetic in her speech.  I feel equal amounts of admiration and jealousy for the skill she has with language.  I might paint my nails green tonight to match my envy.  Or, maybe I should take that green-eyed monster and bludgeon him to death by revising a chapter in my sh*tty first draft, and writing some sentences worthy of Lamott and Russell.

Throwing out 90% of the first draft would have sounded ridiculous to me had I read that immediately after finishing my first draft, but as I’m hacking my way through it with my second draft, I’m realizing she’s completely right.  A lot of that crap needs to go in order for the healthy bits to flourish.