I’ve been deep in the embrace of The Sick over the past few days. Coughing. Sneezing. Hacking. Sopping up bucketloads of snot with tissues that quickly become drenched and disgusting. Waking up at 2 am, and 3, and 4, tangled in sweaty bedsheets, head spinning, eyes pounding. I turn crotchety when I’m ill; skulk around in pajamas, curse at every sneeze and chest-wracking cough.

I wish these hours could be devoted to writing, but alas – my brain colludes with my sick body, and refuses to cooperate.

Instead I’ve been reading, for short stretches here and there.

The Paris Review has helped the hours pass more easily. Their interviews are phenomenal. Look:

Haruki Murakami, interviewed by John Wray

So many gems in this one – where to start? How about here:

I’m not intelligent. I’m not arrogant. I’m just like the people who read my books. I used to have a jazz club, and I made the cocktails and I made the sandwiches. I didn’t want to become a writer—it just happened. It’s a kind of gift, you know, from the heavens. So I think I should be very humble.

I wonder what kind of sandwiches he made for the jazz club?

Another favorite:

I think that my job is to observe people and the world, and not to judge them. I always hope to position myself away from so-called conclusions. I would like to leave everything wide open to all the possibilities in the world.

Love, love, love.

William Gibson, interviewed by David Wallace-Wells

To the interviewer’s question about how he feels about Neuromancer today, he had this stunning reply:

When I look at Neuromancer I see a Soap Box Derby car. I felt, writing it, like I had two-by-fours and an old bicycle wheel and I’m supposed to build something that will catch a Ferrari. This is not going to fly, I thought. But I tried to do it anyway, and I produced this garage artifact, which, amazingly, is still running to this day. Even so, I got to the end of it, and I didn’t care what it meant, I didn’t even know if it made any sense as a narrative. I didn’t have this huge feeling of, Wow, I just wrote a novel! I didn’t think it might win an award. I just thought, Phew! Now I can figure out how to write an actual novel.

Though it seems incredible that he would say such a thing, I often feel that way about the novel I’m working on now. If I get to the end of this, maybe I can figure out how to write an actual novel.

And this made me inexplicably happy, because while I don’t start at page one every day, I do revise constantly, and somehow I had started to feel guilty about the habit:

Every day, when I sit down with the manuscript, I start at page one and go through the whole thing, revising freely.

Revising freely. Two words that say so much. The whole interview is full of goodness; these are just scraps.

Time Lost and Found, by Anne Lamott

A lovely, but pointed, essay on why it’s so important to take the time to write, even when you don’t think you have any:

“…creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.”

And finally, because I can’t end on sweetness and light when I’m feeling so blue (ha), here’s an article that made me cringe:

Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year Is Slacking

This piece counts as horror, in my opinion – a tale of writers churning out 2,000 words a day, 7 days a week, like workers in a kind of Dickensian book mill:

In this environment, publishers say, producing one a book a year, and nothing else, is just not enough.

One book a year is not enough! Indeed, this entire article seems to be devoted to the notion that readers are like greedy children, stamping their feet and begging for more candy, and that we MUST give them what they want – now! – or risk them running away and finding another source to fill their neverending hunger.

Publishers also believe that Salinger-like reclusiveness, which once created an aura of intrigue around an author, is not a viable option in the age of interconnectivity.

Did Twitter kill the author?

And with that, I do believe I’ll slump back on this pillow and close my eyes for a few…


When I made the decision to finish this book before my birthday, I also decided not to use a lack of time as an excuse anymore.

Because not having enough time is a lame and un-special reason not to do the one thing that feeds my soul.

Everyone struggles with this. Don’t they? We all have work to do or work to find. We have clients to please and invoices to send and taxes to tally. We have rent and credit cards and oil changes and haircuts that need paying for. We have partners and spouses and girlfriends and boyfriends who want to hang out with us. We have brothers and sisters and aunts and grandpas that we’d love to catch up with. We have friends we adore that we don’t see often enough. We have laundry to finish and dishes to wash and groceries to shop for and dry cleaning to pick up.

The to-do list is never complete. I suspect it’s not just me. We’re all juggling, shifting one thing and then another, always out of breath, constantly striving to stay apace.

Some weeks it’s easier than others. Lately it hasn’t been easy at all. Clients and projects have sucked up double-digit hours each day, and I’m left feeling wiped out, creatively bare.

But there it is, waiting: the story that needs to be told.

So this is what I do on weeks like this: I make frameworks. I build scaffolding. I tell myself it’s okay if I don’t produce beautiful, praise-worthy prose in the scraps of time I have left. There is much I can do with what I have, even in the dregs of the busy days.

I imagine a builder standing on a foundation. Studying blueprints and measuring beams. Marking the spots where the doors will go. Noting the places where wires will be threaded through. Making scaffolding to lean against one section while working on another, the temporary framework that will be removed once the permanent structure is in place.

I start by outlining my next section. From the outline, I start building out the scene. It’s rough stuff – nothing pretty about it. Streams of consciousness. Incomplete sentences. Paragraphs that cut off suddenly. Things like: “Next she says something about radishes” or “Observation about the faultiness of memory here.”

It’s my version of scaffolding, something I can hang on to now, and that I’ll eventually replace with startling, poetic, soaring… Oh, there I go daydreaming again.

Point is: It’s all important. It all matters.

I have enough time, even when I don’t.

It’s Friday. The weekend beckons. Here are a few things I’ve been reading lately that are good enough to bookmark, highlight, and revisit – in a comfy chair, perhaps, with coffee close at hand:

Interview with Cheryl Strayed (The Great Discontent)

I’ve had this interview on a tab in my browser for several days. I keep going back to it, re-reading a line here or there. It’s long – you’ll want to carve out a chunk of time for it – but full of goodness. Here’s one:

“What I’ve really learned in my 43 years is that the body does not lie; the body actually tells you what’s right and wrong. If you get a sinking feeling in your stomach or a heavy heart about something, you shouldn’t do it; and if you get a lifting, light feeling in your body, you should.”

I know this to be true, even though I don’t always follow it.

How I Got A Big Advance from a Big Publisher and Self-Published Anyway by Penelope Trunk

A riveting take on one writer’s experience in navigating the publishing world. I snorted when I read this:

“It takes a print publisher about a year to publish a book, after it is written. It’s unclear what the publishers are doing during this time.”

Her “new rules for book publishing” are worth a close read, and while her path isn’t for everyone, it demonstrates that in 2012, there are PATHS. Plural. The fact that authors can self-publish alone, or self-publish with a team, or run a Kickstarter campaign, or publish with an indie press, or go the traditional route – there are more options than ever before. And THAT is all kinds of exciting.

Traveling Southwards, by Andrew O’Hagan (London Review of Books)

Every time I see a reference to Shades of Grey, or one of its spawn, I die a little bit inside. But there is one thing that DOES intrigue me about it, and that is that MILLIONS of people are reading it. Who are they? What are their lives like that this book titillates them so? Andrew O’Hagan doesn’t answer my questions, exactly, but he offers an interesting take on the phenomenon.

“Each era gets the erotic writing it craves, or deserves, if that doesn’t sound too much like I’m asking you to spank me into an ecstasy of submission.”

Letter From the Pulitzer Prize Fiction Jury: What Really Happened This Year by Michael Cunningham (The New Yorker)

This might be better classified as reading about reading, but I’ve been dying to know what happened with the Pulitzer Prize debacle. After all, isn’t it their job to award a prize? It turns out that the answer is a complicated one, but the real reason to read this piece is the tantalizing bits about the literary proclivities of the three judges:

Maureen was drawn to writers who told a gripping and forceful story… Susan was a tough-minded romantic. She wanted to fall in love with a book… I was the language crank, the one who swooned over sentences. I could forgive much in a book if it was written with force and beauty, if its story was told in a voice unlike anything I’d heard before, if the writer was finding new and mesmerizing ways to employ the same words that have been available to all American writers for hundreds of years.

Some of his observations terrified me. Like this one:

I lobbied to eliminate another because its language was sometimes strong and sometimes indifferent…I insisted that although there were plenty of good lines, there were simply too many slack, utilitarian ones.

He does offer some in-depth speculation about why the prize wasn’t awarded, the sum of which is that they felt “meh” about their options. We may never know for sure. But enough of my highlights. Just read it.

Write Like a Motherfucker by Dear Sugar (The Rumpus)

Two Cheryl-Strayed-related pieces in one short list might not seem fair, but I read this last night before I fell asleep, and this stuck with me:

“The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your “limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude” is to produce. You have limitations. You are in some ways inept. This is true of every writer…”

Happy reading.

 

I have this print from Austin Kleon hanging in my office.

One of the most important rules for me right now is #9:

Be Boring. It’s the only way to get work done. – Austin Kleon

I say no to more things than I say yes to. That sucks. But if I’m going to get this done, I have to sit in front of this monitor and peck away, one word, one sentence at a time, until it’s done.

Even while other people are having fun. *sob*

A few of the characters in my book spend some time in Pacific Heights, and even though I lived there myself for a couple of years, I wanted to brush up on the details. So I drove over to the neighborhood today and grabbed a few shots with my iPhone.

I love the architecture there, the sense of elegance and old-world grandeur. Many of the buildings are festooned with curliques and scalloped edges, painted over so many times their surfaces look as thick as cake frosting.

I’m a sucker for articles that offer writing advice. Usually I can find a nugget that helps me figure out something I’ve been puzzling over.

When I came across 22 story basics I learned at Pixar from Emma Coats, it was like being handed a present. I keep going back to it; among my favorites are #11, #16 and #8. In fact, I just might get #8 tattooed on my forearm.

But one of the rules made me feel anxious:

I haven’t written my ending yet. I have some idea of how it will play out, but it hasn’t entirely come together yet. I worry. I do. Sadly, my fretting hasn’t been very useful. I’ll get to The End eventually.

One part of me knows that the number of words on a page is the LEAST important thing about my writing. The other part of me can’t stop watching the word counter. This is the same reason I cover up the electronics panel on gym equipment; I start obsessing over how many calories I’m burning per minute, and WHAT ARE METS AND HOW CAN THEY HELP ME.

Since I can’t very well drape a towel over my computer monitor, I’m not going to fight it. And that’s okay, because here’s the truth: the numbers comfort me. Irrelevant as they might be, they make me feel like I’m getting somewhere.

This seems like a good time to establish a starting point. When I dusted my manuscript off in April, I had about 20,000 words or so.

Here’s what I’ve got now:

Section 1: 15,900 words
Section 2: 16,200 words
Section 3: 13,800 words
Section 4: 8,000 words

TOTAL; 46,700

See how I’m rounding off? That KILLS me.

But that’s where I am today, give or take a few.

My weekly goal is 3,000 (new) words. That’s in addition to fiddling, tweaking, and smoothing the work I’ve done already. I’m guessing that the finished product will be between 90-100,00 words, which means I’ve got about 50,000 words to go. If I meet my goal every week, I’ll have a rough first draft in about 19 weeks.

Let’s see how this goes.

I didn’t plan to start blogging again. Then I started this project – which is technically more about finishing than about starting, but whatever – and realized I had so much stuff rolling around in my head about ALL THE THINGS that I needed a place to record it all.

I’m just going to jump right in.

Not sure what this is about? Go here.

And we’re off. Eep.