MONDAY: Settling in. Converting the dining table to a work table. Thinking, OMG, if Mike and David saw this mess they’d groan. But what they don’t know won’t upset them. When they return on Friday, all will be perfectly restored to normal. Meanwhile, I have to spread out so I can plunge into my novel. Which I do, and work for several hours without even getting up to stretch.
Working on the novel always begins with rereading and revising; that’s how I get into the work. It’s the best way to slide in, starting at a place I’ve been before and writing forward into new revisions and new ideas. It’s comfortable for a while, and then it gets harder and harder (in a good way) as I make changes and rethink sections that weren’t finished. Half the time I have no idea what I’m doing; half the time it’s perfectly clear to me what needs attention.
What I worry about most is unevenness: is this part as well written as that part? Does this part make as much sense as that part? And I worry about length too—this is a long manuscript, over 650 pages right now. It’s gone as high as 700+ and then back down to the 600s and who knows where it’s headed today. But I’ve given myself permission to write as much as I want, for now. Cutting comes later.
It’s a springlike day, and after working hard all morning and into the early afternoon, a person needs a walk.
TUESDAY: Cold, damp, rainy, a good day to stay inside. Perfect. No temptations. Nonstop writing, except for a break to do Qi Gong—via DVD—for forty minutes. Dress, wash dishes, do laundry, back to work. Write until brain feels like a stuffed turkey and vision blurs. But whole sections of Chapters 15, 16, 17 are starting to make more sense.
When I began this novel over four years ago, I was too close to the material. The writing had passion and that was good, but being so close to the story made it difficult to fictionalize—too much loyalty to the truth, not enough vision of the work as a novel. That’s changed consistently, as time passes. A relief.
WEDNESDAY: Wake up and can’t move. Yesterday’s Qi Gong was a big mistake. Or rather, it was good for the brain, but a bitch for the low back and recovering sprained wrist. At moments like this—when you’re alone, in retreat, no one available—you can easily slip into panic. Hobbling around in pain is scary.
Manage to make coffee; that helps. Writing helps. By 11:30 all is well, literally, and I can worry about something else: only forty-eight hours to go until it’s time to end the retreat, clean the house, and be ready (meaning dressed decently) for my returning friends. What I am trying to remind myself is that the end of the retreat is not the end of writing. Sounds silly, though it’s quite real—looking forward to the retreat made me feel as if this week implied some sort of deadline. As if I had to reread and revise all the way to the end of the manuscript in one week. Crazy. Ridiculous.
If any student of mine told me that little fairytale, I’d talk her down from it and remind her that she’d been working on her novel for years and she’ll be working on it for many more months. So much easier to do it for someone else than for oneself. Don’t be a dope, Lorrie, I now tell myself. You’ll be working again on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. Stop this nonsense. Get back to the pages.
Cloudy and threatening again, but another walk is needed.
Update on reading progress: zero. No Hadrian, no Cost, no W.S. Merwin poems, no New Yorkers. Nada.
FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast
Wild Iris Books, Gainesville, FL
The Spotty Dog Books & Ale, Hudson, NY
Mockingbird Books, Seattle, WA