So far, 2010 has involved a lot of being sick and already several doctor’s visits (surgery next week). Lots of time back and forth to Baton Rouge interviewing folks for my latest 225 piece about The Dictionary of Louisiana French – will have to do a post soon on the behind-the-scenes story of this latest piece, because it’s been fascinating.
My goal was to do a NaNoWriMo-like pace in January, trying to finish any new writing that might be necessary for the 3rd draft. I set my goal word count kind of arbitrarily at 30,000. I achieved just over 11,000 new words in actuality. Half of those words would probably never have been written, if it weren’t for Ronlyn.
As I reported last month, Jamey “fixed” my novel. But I wasn’t fixed–my process wasn’t. I’ve had a thousand little revelations (and maybe a dozen giant ones) in the years I’ve been working on this book. The fact that I’m still surprised to learn something about the book or my characters or my process or myself still surprises me, but I suspect the learning (and the surprise) will never go away.
I wrote Ronlyn an email asking her for advice and something in my email triggered an awareness in her that I needed something other than (in addition to) what I was asking for, so she suggested we talk on the phone. I wrote her back and said I was going to Baton Rouge and why not get coffee. We met at a coffeeshop I wrote a lot of my thesis at, which is a lot more active in the middle of the day than it used to be, when I was there. Ronlyn came in with a bandage on her chin (she writes about that injury and another in her newest Nervous Breakdown piece). We chatted about her injury and the day I’d been having and then segued into The Issue(s).
Like a writing therapist, she listened. A lot. And then diagnosed The Issue. “Your process isn’t working.” In short, I had developed habits and rituals that didn’t work for me. Ever, or anymore, that was hard to tell. But they didn’t work. My body would hurt if I didn’t get up and go to Cheers everyday and try to get one of my favorite tables. Except, I would sit there all day and not write. I was there, butt in chair as they say, but I was restless, I was annoyed, I was undisciplined.
The other problem, as I then confessed to Ronlyn, was that I was afraid I’d lost my joy in writing. For good. “It’s almost never fun to write anymore. I remember when it used to be the thing I always wanted to do most.” I was paralyzed because I was afraid that my book sucked and it wasn’t satisfying or fun or pleasant to write to top it all off. But the worst part was that I was afraid writing would never be fun again, that it would always be arduous torture.
Ronlyn then said several things that consoled and comforted me, that woke me. She made some great suggestions, too. First, she reassured me that not all books are enjoyable to write. But, clearly, this book needs to be written because it won’t let me go. Writing can and will be fun and satisfying again, she convinced me.
Next, she suggested that I find new places and ways to write, as my habits and rituals are failing me. She urged me to go back to handwriting, which is how I wrote until I went to college. She gave me another piece of advice that I’ll have to keep private, but which is embodied by the picture below.
The above picture was taken in St. Andrews, Scotland. This is the place where I did my first writing in several months, after finishing my thesis draft of the book. I was weary and burnt out and in Scotland was lucky enough to sit in on my friend Rachel Marsh’s writing group. My first writing in months was an assignment for that group meeting, the Yellow House assignment.
I came home from that visit with Ronlyn in Baton Rouge and I vowed to handwrite in a notebook for an hour every day, before doing anything else. I’ve managed that most days. Sometimes, it’s regrettably at the end of the day and I have missed a few days, what with illness, doctor’s appointments and Saints games. But, I’ve written more days than I haven’t. And I was shocked at how relatively easy and yes, enjoyable, the process was. Several people have told me this over the years and handwriting used to be my primary method. I knew it was true that handwriting would probably be more fun and efficient in the long run for me, but I stubbornly clung to my broken rituals, trying to shove my creativity into the shape of my habits like a difficult puzzle piece.
And then, I was lucky enough to attend the Peauxdunque Writers’ Alliance retreat in Hopedale, Louisiana and I had an amazing, peaceful time. We prepared meals together, toasted J.D. Salinger and had shop talk in incredibly beautiful surroundings and it gave me just that extra bit of creative energy I needed. Below is a picture of the writers at the retreat. Though it’s highly overexposed (we’d set the timer on a camera and were standing on a dock in extremely cold weather), I really enjoy the expressions on our faces.
Bryan, Susan, Terri, Emilie, Tad and Maurice
Recently, someone asked me what the new timeline is for the book and I froze. I don’t know. I’d hoped, ambitiously, to have all the new writing done in January and then just breeze through a shellac/edit, sculpt those new pieces into place and then pop it into the EasyBake. That’s not going to happen. I still want to be done soon. I’m still restless. But I’m figuring it out. I’m that much closer.
One piece of good news is that every time I’ve been asked this year what I do for a living (at doctor’s offices, etc.), I have answered, “self-employed writer.” With hardly any hesitation, too!
But while I’m eliminating my hesitation and waiting for a reasonable timeline, I have much bragging on to do.
Jamey is in 225, talking about her recent and perennial reading. Also, she has finished and exceeded the 32 Day Challenge, which means she wrote every day of the first 32 days of the year. And she’s still going. Not one single day off.
Barb’s book More of This World or Maybe Another was just named a Barnes and Noble Discover Awards finalist.
Dave’s newest film project, Night Catches Us, premiered at Sundance.
Toni is appearing at Baton Rouge’s CitiPlace Barnes and Noble February 12th at 7 p.m.
The Saints are playing in the SuperBowl on Sunday. That’s certainly something to brag on, as well.
Check out this picture I found of some of my favorite people:
Classic. James Wilcox, Jamey Hatley, Ronlyn Domingue and Clarence Nero
And some presents to leave you with:
Pink performs an aerial routine similar to what my character would be doing at the end of my book.
The Legend of Jeremy Shockey – so funny I almost ran the car off the road while listening to it on the radio.
And five seasons of Lost reduced to under 10 minutes by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, below. My thoughts as I started watching it? Ohmygawd, I watched all 104 hours of Lost in December. But trust me, I’m going to enjoy watching the upcoming 16 hours of Season 6 just as much, if not more.