I’m looking at 50% on my laptop’s battery bar.
I tell you this because this is the amount of time I’ve allotted to myself to write this post. 49% now. I will finish this post before the bar hits code red. And I will not simply dither on like this, either. I will say something—something—about finishing the first draft of my forthcoming novel, Broken Ground (Fall, 2015, we’re hoping). I will not look away from the laptop screen, and neglect to look back, or close the computer with a loud clap, or delete the draft altogether. Because this is what I have been doing since Monday, November 3rd, just post-All Saint’s Day, when I sent the draft off to my editor, Beth Adams, and my agent, Sandra Bishop. Beyond a tweet, a post, and an Instagram pic, and the occasional gasp of relief to my family and friends, I’ve really not been able to talk about the draft—emphasis on draft—or its writing, or think much about the draft, or its writing, let alone write about the draft, or the writing of the draft (eeks! hall of mirrors feeling here . . . a woman writing about a woman writing about writing about a woman writing about a writing about a woman writing . . . a draft). You know what I mean. On a rather primal level, I’ve just had to leave it all alone.
There it sits, my first draft, over there on the makeshift desk Greg, my husband, just carted over from the upper room of our church where I spent so much time writing, and the big computer screen, that he just carted over from Wheaton College, where he teaches, because writing over 90,000 words in four months on this little MacBook Air has turned my hands into raven’s claws.
I will write the second draft of Broken Ground, often as I am able, well sitting with better posture at this little table, looking up at the big screen, my hands skittering at a better angle over a wider and more easily navigable keyboard, occasionally clicking on the mouse (it’s been decades since I used a mouse; do we even still call it “mouse”?)—all these new items and devices attached by a series of umbilical-like cords to my hardy, little Shetland pony of a Macbook Air, and plopped down at the intersection of windows near the bed in which I sit now, writing this post, because it’s the most comfortable place to write that I can think of this morning, when I made myself to sit down to write, and the bar is now at 42%.
Did I mention writing this first draft was the hardest writing thing I’ve ever done? You want to talk about “shitty first drafts,” Anne Lamott? Thank you! Now let’s talk about constipation.
When I was getting my MA at SUNY Binghamton, I had a teacher who taught a wonderful course about teaching (eeks again! house of mirrors: taught a class about teaching a class about teaching a class . . .), and one of the texts she included on her syllabus was The Gift, by Lewis Hyde, and while we were discussing that transformative book about art and the marketplace and life and gift-giving–I think it was, in fact, when we were discussing one of the book’s early sections about tribal gift exchange–she happened to mention that teaching was a lot like the ritual of bloodletting in Mesoamerica—at the end of any given semester, she felt like she had done just that; she was completely drained of . . . “life,” I think she said, or “life-force,” maybe. Or “energy.” (It was the late ’80s; she was way ahead of her time). And I was like, “ew, ick,” and right now, I’m like, “huh, maybe.”
Which is not to say that the writing of this draft–the entire opportunity to write at all, to be literate (A., #1), to be able (B. #2), to have a little Shetland pony of a MacBook Air (C. #3), to have a husband who helps facilitate the lives of our two children (D. #4), to have two places to go–the upper of room of our church, where the children go on Sunday morning, and called, beautifully enough, The Temple of Light, and also, and never to be forgotten, the Quiet Reading Room of the Wheaton Public Library, where I’ve written much of two other novels as well–these are blessings indeed. I have a contract. A publisher I respect. An agent I love. An editor I trust and rely on. WHO AM I TO COMPLAIN?
I am not complaining. Or I don’t mean to be. I just want to finally let it out, this feeling that is manifesting itself as a weight that bows my shoulders and cricks my neck (is “cricks” even a word?) and turns my hands to raven’s claws:
Writing, and the research that goes along with writing, is not just a cerebral undertaking, a stroll-through-the park of tra-la-la rumination, a projection of mind onto screen. There a reason why writers–most notably male writers–use the metaphor of birth to describe the writing process. I have a son and a daughter, but I’ve never given birth, and I don’t really like to appropriate other peoples’ metaphors for my own, but hey! Heck! Hell! Yeah, this stint of writing may have been like that. And sometimes it was like that Greek guy pushing his big stone up that mammoth hill. Or swimming out too far from shore, not waving, but drowning (thank you, Stevie Smith). Or driving through a blizzard, which turns to a white out, and someone’s reading poetry on the radio–Billy Collins, “The Lanyard,” and, damn, if his voice isn’t the only thing that keeps you going, and when the air waves are filled with static, you just inch your way foreword, praying for guidance above and beyond yourself, waiting for the next word.
Yeah, so, sometimes it felt like that, writing this first draft.
And sometimes, I’m not kidding, the voice of Dorie, the fish in Finding Nemo, came to me, the voice of Ellen DeGeneres like the voice of a ditzy angel, Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming. And I’d be like, THANK YOU, PIXAR! And my arms were like the arms of one of those little mechanical monkeys beating a tin drum as I banged out the words, sometimes summarizing whole sections, without a thought–gasp!–for beauty, or even, really, grammatical correctness.
Yeah, true confessions. Like that, sometimes, it was.
In the last three-ish weeks since I released my first draft to my editor–bye, bye, journey’s mercies!—I have, in no particular order: 1. done some web copy writing to make some money, because sitting around drafting novels doesn’t exactly help pay the bills. 2. Watched The Gilmore Girls with my family, and also finished up the last season of Parks & Recreation with my kids (for whatever reason, Greg doesn’t go there, but he does love The Gilmore Girls). Written my first RFP for another freelance project. 3. Cooked food. Real food!. 4. Changed lightbulbs. 5. Driven my children hither and yon. 6. Eaten a few really nice dinners with friends. 7. Served as a reader for another friend’s work-in-progress. 8. Indulged myself in too many episodes of Breaking Bad, and HONESTLY and TRUELY, feel like I’ve learned a lot about plot by doing so. 9. Exercised, and, lo, the blood circulate-eth again in my nether quarters. 10. Cleaned the frickin’ house, literally and metaphorically.
Thanksgiving approaches, as, I’m sure, does a very lengthy letter of revision from my editor. Round two will begin. I hope and pray to be ready. Right now, at 22% of my Shetland pony’s battery, well, I’m about at 73% of my personal life force/energy/being. And that’s okay. By the grace of God, and my family and friends, we’ll soon both be fully recharged again.
Pictures uploaded at 6%. Whew.