This side of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, writing is grand except when it’s not.
For the record, yesterday was definitely a ‘NOT” sort of day. Which means I know I should have given it up and enjoyed my latest Richard Russo novel. But, no. I kept banging away at the keyboard — like a fool in pursuit of fool’s gold — drawing line after line of gibberish, circling back and forth, top to bottom, until, — TA-DA — Five Golden Rings. I mean, five digital pages.
What can I say? I was on a mad dive to reach that illusory end of my introductory chapter — (Version 7.0) — which meant I was acting like a hawk ready to pounce on a cat.
Setting aside for a moment whether hawks can actually pounce on cats (or whether, the pouncing, in fact, works in reverse order, as it does with smaller birds — sparrows, titmice, cardinal and mourning doves…), the word ‘cat’ is the very place I wish to pounce upon myself, because by the end of yesterday, spelling first-grade words like C-A-T felt WAY out of my reach.
Yesterday, I slapped away at that keyboard for eight horrible hours. Okay, maybe it was ten. The point is that I knew I was typing crap, I knew that very few lines were keepers, but I kept working anyway. Why, if my husband hadn’t sounded the gong to let me know that women’s gymnastics was on the family room telly, I might have written another two hours. Or more.
There are two things about my watching women’s gymnastics last night that I found helpful to my writing life. One was just sitting like the proverbial couch potato with my mouth wide open. Yes, like the rest of the Summer Olympic television audience, I was under the spell of those young women from Romania and Russia and China and Great Britain and the U.S.A.
I mean, did you happen to catch those circles that they wrote with their bodies? In the air while landing on a four-inch wooden apparatus — making it all seem like child’s play? Except, of course, for those who were having a bad writing day. Like me. These I saw missing the plank and landing on the floor. Kerplunk.
Medal-winning performances are grand, of course, but I found myself admiring the fallen gymnasts more. Especially as I watched them pick up their disappointed selves and stiffen their resolve and climb up and finish their circles on top of that straight thin line, even though they knew there would be no medals for them, at the end of their fabulous circling dismounts. Except for the one who landed on her buns.
The second thing about my television break that i found helpful came from grabbing one of my favorite inspirational writing books by Ann Lamott, which I began to read again, between gymnastic routines. It’s called bird by bird, and if you’ve never had the pleasure, I heartily recommend it for your writing life. The book is hilarious. HILARIOUS. Especially the part where Lamott waxes poetic over the need for shitty first drafts. I went to bed last night feeling a little more hopeful than I otherwise would have, thanks to that creative break, which felt sort of like a coaching session.
And this morning? Well, today I woke into a great writing life. Not only could I spell C-A-T but sometimes, I was also able to spell C-A-T-I-P-I-L-L-A-R. And once, though it was a long way off, I could almost catch a glimpse of what those digital scribbles on the page might one day become. After its chrysalis break-through.
I also decided, this morning, that I would no longer write to o’dark hundred any day of the week. And today, I slipped, and worked to 3:14. But from here on out, it’s a 9 a.m to 3 p.m writing schedule for me — and I’ll write within this carved block of time, whether it means six hours of writing or something much less.
No matter what.
No matter what birds or bees or cats or caterpillars or hawks might be circling around my mind or page that I feel the need to chase. And at the other end of the balance beam, no matter what wicked witches from Kansas (or neighboring corn-growing states like Iowa?), might be writing nasty messages — in circles, with their broomsticks in the sky — beginning with the word, S-U-R-R-E-N-D-E-R.
Surrender? Never. No matter what. Unless it’s another day like yesterday.