Yesterday was my day long writing “retreat.”
It was good to get a big chunk of writing time in, but somehow I had built it up in my head too much. I had this idea that I was going to be able to rewrite the entire ending of my story, all in one sitting.
Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. I’m really struggling with the end. I think I made some serious headway yesterday, but I’m left with this anxious feeling. It’s not done.
I want it to be done.
I guess I just have to keep plugging away at it. What else can I do?
I still think I can have it done in two weeks. Well, I can have the story done in two weeks. I will need longer to do the word-for-word polish. In fact, I have no idea how long that will take. I really want to make every page, every sentence, perfect. And there are a lot of sentences.
To keep focused, I have written myself a new mantra: I will not call it done just because I’m tired of working on it.
I guess I just need to let go of having it done at any particular time. It’s just stressing me out. It will get done when it gets done.
Doesn’t that sound official?
As it turns out, most applications for writing grants or residencies ask you what writing organizations you belong to. Well, my writing group has been meeting for two and a half years now. We go to readings, we talk publishing – we do everything any writing organization does – so we decided to give ourselves a name: The Rock Lake Writers. And now we can list it on our resumes. Sweet.
The name is inspired by geography. Two of our members live in Eagle Rock. The other three in Silver Lake. (Silver Eagle just sounded to militaristic.) I’m thinking of building us a website (with all my spare time).
In all the many months that the Rock Lake Writers have been coming together, we have each moved closer toward our goals, but we’re all very busy, and it can be hard to find quality time for our writing. So a few months ago, as we were sitting with our calendars and mapping out our meeting schedule (aren’t we official?) we decided to set aside a day for a mini writing retreat.
It’s this Sunday – and I’m so excited. From 10 to 5 the dads will watch the kids and we will lock ourselves in the home of one of our members and just write, write, write. It’s good timing for me. I’ve reached a point with the novel rewrite that I need a big chunk of time to really dive deep. It’s the ending. It needs to be completely rewritten. It’s so much work that I’m not sure I can do it all in one day of writing, but I’m sure as hell going to give it my best shot. I’m thinking about going old school and just writing long hand to let the new version of the end just flow. Then I can edit as I translate it to my computer. I don’t often work that way, but I do find that writing things out long hand helps me be more creative. It’s as if I’m less afraid of being judged when it’s written out long hand. Once it’s in the computer it’s official and must be edited.
I’m getting so close to being done with this project. Here’s hoping the first-ever Rock Lake Writers Day-Long Retreat is highly productive.
I edit a lot of writing. In my work, I review the prose of CEOs and celebrities, assistants and managers. Some of them are actually very good writers, but the one I really enjoy editing for are not. There’s something very satisfying about taking a jumble of words and turning it into a piece with flow and meaning. Along the way, there’s a part of my brain (the part that wanted to study anthropology) that is noticing the WAY in which people use (or more interestingly – misuse) language.
The thing that has caught my attention the most lately is the way people tend to capitalize random words.
Sometimes these errant capital letters make sense. People will write: I asked the President why I should vote for him. This mistake is understandable, but for the record, you only capitalize titles if they are used with (and as part of) a proper name: I asked President Barack Obama why I should vote for him, instead of Mitt Romney, who would also like to be president.
But these are not the typos that fascinate me. The ones I like are the ones that are inserted to give a certain importance to a word (either consciously or not). For instance, I edited a bio today that was written by a city manager. He wrote something along the lines of: My wife and I have two Daughters… There’s something just very sweet about that. His girls must be very important to him.
Sometimes people will capitalize the word dollar for no apparent reason (except that money is very important). I also like when people use the uppercase for website – as in: my Website is the greatest. (Of course, you are supposed to capitalized Internet, so this could just be confusion on the part of the writer.)
Anyhow, that’s what’s been kicking around in my brain.
If you could insist that the world capitalize one word – what would it be?
When my husband and I went to our girl’s back to school night a couple of weeks ago, one of the things her kindergarten teacher asked us to do was to write a letter that he could keep in a file, to read to her in the event that there’s a major emergency and we can’t get to the school to pick her up right away. Apparently teachers ask this of all the parents, in all the schools down here in LA. It’s not a bad idea.
If you live around these parts, you know that it’s not if an earthquake hits, it’s when. I do try to be prepared. We have a stash of canned food in the garage (although I admit, it’s mostly chili and peaches) as well as some water (though not enough) and a first aid kit. But, as it turns out, when your kid starts school, you also have to prepare for what an earthquake will mean to them.
So I sat down to write this letter and the gravity of the whole thing hit me. The truth is, if there’s an earthquake that’s bad enough that I can’t get to my girl’s school, odds are, people have died and (here’s where my writer’s brain gets carried away) there’s really no reason one of those people couldn’t be me.
What’s more, as writer, I feel a certain obligation to write a really good letter. I mean, what if I do die, and this is the last thing she will ever hear from me? She will later remember me as a writer and, as she rereads that letter, thinking of her loving mother, a little part of her will be judging. Is that paranoid? I have this image in my head of her weeping at her profound loss, and then being momentarily distracted by my misuse of a comma. Needless to say, I felt pressure to perform.
I decided to write the letter with the assumption that I would not be dead.
I told her how I knew she was probably scared, and that I probably was too, but not to worry, I was desperately trying to get to her and hug her again, and everything will be okay – even if it doesn’t seem that way right now.
When I read it to Daniel (focus group of one) he pointed out that if she’s not already scared after the earthquake hits, that letter will make sure she is solidly freaked.
So I rewrote it.
Did I mention the teacher had given us a deadline of the end of the week? I’ve written for national publications with more lenient timelines. I wondered if the other parents were having as much trouble. I wanted to see what they wrote.
The whole thing reminded me a quote from Thomas Mann (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929): “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
I did finally finish the letter. It is now tucked away in a file somewhere at my girl’s school, and if The Big One should hit, her teacher will read it to her, and she will hopefully be reassured and comforted. I hope, at the very least, she is impressed by my careful use of grammar.
This is the end of my fifth week of full-time employment.
I am very happy to say that I have kept up my practice of getting up at 5am to squeeze some writing in before the kids wake up and the chaos of the day takes over. I honestly didn’t know if I would stick with it. The alarm goes off at 5 and I turn it off, then come very close to falling back asleep, but as I’m wavering on the edge of consciousness I have this strange sense that my characters need me. It’s like I’ve created a whole world, and because it’s not finished I feel responsible for it. It’s oddly compelling.
But actually, even that’s not enough to motivate me out of my nice warm bed. What actually gets me moving is knowing that this is the only chance I will have ALL DAY to work on my story. If I don’t get my ass up and moving, a whole day will go by without me making any progress towards finishing it. I can’t stomach the thought.
The couple days I have skipped have been very cranky days. I don’t know if it’s causal, but there’s definitely a correlation.
See, the thing is, corporate writing is fine and all – I still count myself lucky to do what I love for a living – but it’s not nearly as satisfying as my fiction. I love telling stories.
In fact, one of the reasons I’m so gun-ho to finish this novel is that I have a whole collection of new story ideas that I’m just dying to play with. Shiny new stories, lined up like toys after a five-year-old’s birthday party (and trust me – that was a mountain of toys).
So hur-ray for finding time to write. And hur-ray coffee, because 5am is still really effing early.