Monday, March 22, 2010


I haven't been making any progress for the last several days, because I've had to concentrate my morning energy on a work assignment, and I definitely won't be making any progress for at least another 19 days, probably longer, because I'll be on a long trip. In theory, a person can travel and write at the same time, but I don't think I'm that kind of person. I'll be thinking about it though!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

750 words. Hard lessons

I wrote 750 words this morning, which by my standards is nothing to brag about, but I'm recommitting myself to the basic thing -- just write something every day. I've been picking around the edges of different possible scenes this way, not really creating anything tangible, but hopefully doing some necessary seeding that will bear fruit later. I'm just trying to turn myself over to the idea of not knowing what I'm doing. It's been a hard lesson the last couple months. I thought a first draft would emerge as easily as with my first book and that the result would need less work on subsequent drafts. I've turned out wrong on the first item for sure and probably on the second item, too.

I read Jane Smiley's most recent novel the other day, which inspired me to go online and read some criticism of it, which lead me to an old interview with her from about 8 years ago. In that interview, she's basically summarizing what she says in Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Novel, which I've quoted here several times in the past already. But it was a kick in the pants to hear it again in a different way. She talks about just finding the energy and momentum to push through to the end. Make it as crummy as it needs to be just so long as it keeps moving forward. "Just add sentences." That was mantra the first time, and it has to be this time.

Monday, March 8, 2010

World's worst writer's retreat

Well, the reason I haven't been posting isn't that I've been working too hard on the book. I haven't had anything to sayhere except to express shame at how little progress I'm making. I'm about 9 weeks into the project, and I've got a little over 13,000 words, not a line of which I expect will be worth even typing into the computer. This a very different experience from my first book.

And a very different experience from what I had planned. I was way off in two assumptions -- that I could plan the book out and then write it and that this period of time would be a naturally productive time to do that. On the first point, the honest truth is that I still don't really have any idea of what the story is and what I'm building. Second, this so-called writer's retreat has been anything but. I knew it would be a challenge -- I'm living in a temporary situation in a developing country with all the quirks and discomforts and failures (power failures, for example, which we had this morning) that go with that. Every errand takes 5 times longer than it would at home. Even if I can protect a morning to write, I have to beat back more than the usual share of mental list-making. And then there are other distractions like side trips that take some time to bounce back from.

So, I should probably give myself some credit and rethink what it is possible to get out of this. Maybe my goal should be to go home in a few months with a good story to work on. Or with all the background and character sketching worked out. Or with ideas for 5-6 major scenes. And to get there, I probably have to take some pressure off myself so I can be more productive with each writing session. I've been sitting down to work with the expectation that I know what the book is and am producing a good draft, so that every second that ticks by is a failure to live up to that expectation.

I don't want to give up on the theory that it is possible to plan out a book and then write it, but it's not what happened in this case. At the very least, I didn't take enough time to plan it. Probably it's something that will have to emerge through the writing.

My real problem, I think, is that I have a severe aversion to and sense of guilt about waste -- wasted time and effort in this case -- and the feeling that I am wasting them adds pressure and decreases pleasure. I'm not having any fun exploring and inventing. It should be more fun than I've allowed it to be. Not only is this is the world's worst writer's retreat. I may be temperamentally the world's worst candidate for a writer's retreat.