Today’s Word Count for the Novel: 116,143. 1 word cut.
Page Count for the Novel: 418 pages.
(Okay, let’s be honest: I had the flu, I had some life events, and I haven’t picked the thing up in two(?) weeks.)
I’ve submitted a short-short to Flash Fiction Online;
I’ve submitted a short-short to Writer’s Digest Your Story competition; and
I’ve edited several other short pieces. In other words, I’m stopgapping hard!
“True artists, whatever smiling faces they may show you, are obsessive, driven people…”
— John Gardner, The Art of Fiction
I wrote recently about saying yes to the writing life. By saying no elsewhere, I take a vow of poverty and obedience. These vows aren’t as thorough as those of the sisters who once taught me about reconciliation and the Eucharist in grade school. But dramatic enough, nonetheless: a poverty where I spend less money, time, and energy on those things that distract from the writing life; an obedience to the discipline required for writing well.
I think about writing much of my day with the sort of devotion one reserves for illicit affairs. When, I wonder, can I escape from all this to write? When can I be enfolded in the arms of my art, denying the cares of this world, coddled by the dream I invent…
From nuns to mistresses in a nanosecond? Flip sides of the same coin if you ask me. The nuns who “fret not at their convent’s narrow room” have something hidden, brimming with desire and passion, locked away with them in that tiny cell. The confession of the nun in me is this: I am obsessive and driven about writing and in this I feel separate from real life some times. Plato claimed in The Dialogues that a poet enjoys, or suffers, a possession by a god that serves as the inspiration. Once chosen, the artistic process is beyond the artist, the work of the divine. Makes good sense to me.
Take today, for instance: this Sunday, a day of rest, was supposed to be a day away from the computer. I cheated by whipping out my Neo, a two-pound word processor that goes just about anywhere and keeps you off the Web and immersed in writing. (I had taken the vow of writing silence because I was feeling burnt and then it took me less than 24 hours to fall off the wagon.) My husband doesn’t mind because he is likewise an obsessive, driven musician who can easily spend his weekends mastering Pro Tools and other demands that the 21st century makes upon musical artists. He doesn’t judge. But I note the blinking light on the phone (ringer off) and wonder who’s called; I think of family and friends and fun I ought to see and have – normal fun, like seeing an Oscar nominated film or trolling an art museum or the mall. But I don’t want to go any place but my little office and write, write, write.
Staying alone in a room of one’s own is not a guilt-free choice for me, yet a small voice says it’s still the right one. No sooner do I say that when I grant that writing can be your mistress if too much hubris grows (I’m beautiful, I’m loved, I’m powerful, I’m divine) and too much navel gazing persists (I have so much to say!!!). I am the True Artist, Obsessive and Driven (“Look on my works, Ye Mighty, and despair!”) Might as well hang out a shingle. I am the true artist who must obsess over her self-expression and take her pulse every five seconds. Ugh.
I have to fight the voices of the narcissist in my head that override the pure and lilting tones of the griot who just needs to tell a damn good story. Storytelling, honey. That’s what it’s really about.
I can tell you about the smiling face I present to the world when inside I’m irritable and want to be with my writing – that façade, an evolutionary instinct for survival – what you show the tribe, where majority rules, that everything’s copasetic and you can stay in the game. Sometimes the mask hurts, especially when you’re smiling in work and social situations that feel like suffering. Jerry Seinfeld and some other comics say they avoid the cocktail party because social gatherings bleed them dry of all the creativity necessary for their act. That smiling face takes a whole lot of energy. As my husband says in lyrics and every day of his life, “Some Things Are Better Left Alone.”
Last time I took the Myers-Briggs, I was an INTJ – introverted, intuitive, thinking, judging. A good profile, I’ve been told, for someone who wants to write a novel and get it done. The MB helps a person understand such personality traits as where you get your energy – from others? Extrovert! – or from alone time? Introvert! This first designation, the E or the I, is key to pursuing the obsession. To get to the end of a 500-page novel reduced from 1200 pages, you can’t be out and about extroverting all the time exchanging energy with friends. The end, middle, and beginning, draft number four-five-six-seven reveal themselves in a private room after much reflection.
I don’t have to be the bohemian on the hill (though that might be fun) and I’m not a huge fan of some authors of that profile who look down their noses at those who manage full-time gigs while “writing on the side.” In their minds, my life is a sell-out; there’s no way that we workaday writers could be quite truly possessed by the Muse, as serious or driven or romantically obsessive. We haven’t truly sacrificed, either, but that’s worth a whole other blog post – who is supposedly “worthy” to write. Just as Gardner argues there are no aesthetic absolutes, likewise, there are no absolutes to the style of one’s writing life. Whether you write full time or part time isn’t an issue of substance but of style: there are plenty of full-time writers who fritter time away a home or on a park bench, wherever they have to land. It’s what you do with the time you’ve got – and I believe Jane Austen and O’Connor who died at 39 and fulfilled the womanly roles prescribed by their times might agree with me – that in between cleaning their middle class lives of chamber pots and pantries and peacock feedings, as long as your heart and soul shows up to the page, bolstered by intense devotion and relentless revision, that’s all that matters.
Caution that I have no answer to — Stephen King notes in On Writing that writers should take care to not insist that life serve writing. When I get purple around the edges, in high umbrage that someone would dare take 30 seconds too long on the phone when I have writing to attend to, or whatever supposed sin they’ve committed…that’s when I know the god inside is more like a demon. Wordsworth writes that those who shut themselves away should feel “blithe” and “happy,” joyful in the “brief solace.” Take my temp, take my pulse when I emerge, and if I’m a worse person for the time spent away, then smack me upside the head and remind me whom I love and who loves me. The writing doesn’t really love me back, but it’s always a nice affair while it lasts.
Tomorrow’s Writing Goal: Pick up on page 145 and edit to cut words and get reacquainted before I pick up in the mid-400’s to keep the story under 150,000. Meanwhile, stopgap along as the spirit leads you; you seem to be brimming over with short stories lately.
Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.
© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.
Do you have a place to go to where it’s quiet and you can think your own thoughts? Where you have some special objects that are important to you? This might be a room, or the public library, or a gym, or even the bathroom! Where do you go to find quiet and hear yourself think?
If you have a place like that, describe it and explain what kind of thinking you do there. If you do not have a special place to go to, explain why it is hard to find one.
The Perfect Place
Imagine a perfect room, the room you would love to have. What colors would the walls be? What sounds would you hear when entering this room? What special objects? Paint a picture of the sights, sounds, smells, and even tastes and touches this room might have .
Secondary and Adult
Public or Private?
To some people, privacy is essential and where they must retreat to find energy; to others, being out in the public sphere is the only place to be, and they are energized by being around others. Are you one of these types of people, or are you a little of both?
Discuss what gives you more energy – private or public spaces – and identify those places, times, and events that are energy giving or energy depleting.
Imagine that you are designing a dream retreat for someone like you, providing every benefit, amenity, and luxury you can think of. The features of this retreat must leave you relaxed, happy, and ready to go back to work. What would such a place look, sound, smell, taste, and feel like? Use sensory detail, simile, metaphor, and personification to capture this place. If you’re feeling inspired, write the radio or TV commercial describing such a place.