25 days into NaNoWrMo. I’m a few words behind, but committed to bridging that gap in the next three days, making the 50,000 word goal a reality. The story may not be finished but I will have completed the goal. That means something to me. As the 30th of November approaches, as the page count increases, I feel simultaneously thrilled and frustrated at the work. I completely adore large sections, surprised at the fact I am finally writing it, getting things on paper, while other sections I know will have to be completely rewritten.
What digs at me still, the night time monster in my mind that destroys my ideas, derails my thought train. I hate him more than ever. He gave me a particularly bad night last Friday. A busy day left me writing late into the evening, and while the writing process wasn’t particularly uncomfortable that day, it was a portion of the book I worried I would either overwrite, making it too bombastic, a bit pathetic, certainly self serving, or underwrite, undermining the entire story.
I finished my word count goal for the day, saved and closed the computer. This is my routine this month. I finish the word count, or the section I am working on, save and shut down. I don’t edit for fear of deleting. Sheryl had already gone to bed, it was pushing 11:30 and though I wanted to go to sleep, my mind was running and I needed to quiet things down some. I played some video games, watched some television, then went up to bed.
It was then he attacked.
I kept working out story kinks in my head, changing ideas, making things up that I thought would progress things. All my efforts were met with constant chatter. Nothing made sense and several times, I convinced myself the book would never come together, and would suffer for poor execution, poor writing, poverty all around.
Tossing and turning, numbing my shoulder several times, kicking blankets on and off, it kept eating at me, forcing sleep away, putting me back in the story, seeing all the flaws, all the weak parts, all the things I had not written that would surely have been more poignant than what was already on the page. I was driving myself a bit insane with all the rambling.
I had to get up, get out, do anything, but all I wanted to do was think and dig at myself. Writing was out of the question. I would certainly have ended up editing, cutting, rewriting, ruining everything. Instead I found myself in the basement, lying on the bed in the guest room, thinking. It was pushing 2:30 in the morning and I convinced myself there would be no sleep that night. I picked up my phone just to do something besides think about this book. I played a round of Words with Friends. I checked the blog, Twitter, then Facebook. Feeling slightly less frustrated, I turned the phone off, intending to try sleeping one more time.
In a flash of unusual clarity, the ending came to me. Along with it, came the path I needed to follow to get to the ending. I actually laughed out loud, grateful I was in the basement, rather than right next to Sheryl, who didn’t need to be woken again. It was a strange turn of events. Usually, I can’t shut that monster down, and have to suffer the agony of sleepless nights, and he never relents, not until morning. This was certainly a unique moment. I may have had some small breakthrough.
Regardless, I learned one thing. Never write before bed. Shutting my head off takes too long. Lesson learned. Now, back to the book. The goal is in sight!
I owe much of my writing development to two professors who taught me the value of editing. Before, I would occasionally toss a word out, or rewrite a stanza or paragraph, but only if the writing was desperately bad, or someone that read it pointed out something ridiculous I had written. For years, I was convinced that what I wrote was the pure text, and beyond fixing a spelling error, writing was to be left alone.
When my poetry professor ripped apart, then helped me recreate a poem, and that piece became the most incredible and complete thing I had ever written, I was convinced. My fiction professor taught me that a writer needs to pay just as much attention to line construction when writing fiction as when writing poetry. The length of the writing should have nothing to do with the attention the writer gives it.
For years, that philosophy helped me write more succinctly, more clearly, and I believe, more potently. I used to write first, edit second. As I became more skilled at editing my own work, I started writing and editing simultaneously. For many years, this was how I’d compose-write a line, edit as I went, change words, change direction, alter the form, finish the text, breathe, edit again.
Somewhere along the way, I got lost. Editing became more important than writing. Files full of half completed stories, random lines or paragraphs became the normal. I couldn’t finish a third of what I started writing, becoming frustrated with the way I was expressing, not what I was expressing. Form becoming meaning, not the vehicle to meaning. I was losing my writing edge, and while the writing I was able to finish was still, in my view, top quality, it was frustrating to watch so many ideas sit unfinished.
There are at least three longer pieces, novel ideas, sitting in files, in similar states of frustrated incompleteness. I have rewritten the same chapters so many times that I finally quit trying. In one story, I wrote myself into a corner in the first five pages. Another, I can see the ideas, how they fit together, but I am not talented enough (yet) to execute them. Going on almost three years since I left the library, and my first book is no closer to completion.
November came rolling, and along with it, National Novel Writing Month. Last year, my brother in law started the challenge to write 50,000 words in one month, and while he did not complete the story, he did complete the words. I am amazed at that! So many words in so short a time. Break it down to just under 1700 words a day, and it seems just as daunting. Still, I wanted to try it, wanted to give myself a tangible goal. I had not been able to write more than 700 words in one sitting for quite a long time, and if I did write that many words, it was never done on consecutive days. I would edit myself out of half of them. I determined to try anyway.
On November first, I sat at my computer and pulled up a blank page. Bad idea. Nothing came, no idea, no words. I pulled up the story I’d started the week I quit the library, read over it, liked the tone and the direction. I could see the corner I had written myself in, but better yet, a way to get out of that sticky place. I started writing. After forty minutes, I had left a little over 1000 new words on the page. Combined with the original writing, I had just over 3000 total words. I was off and running.
On day 2, the old habits started creeping in. I deleted an entire page, rewrote it, then stopped. I couldn’t let this go on. I was my own worst enemy, my need for a clean text, a near perfect page, was like a monster eating at my creativity. A perfect page was an impossibility and the search for it would never lead me to a complete book. I needed to silence that creature, find some means to lock it up until I finished my goal, finished the story. Then I could let him loose to edit his hungry heart out. I needed rules for writing, something I could come back to when I was frustrated or stuck. They had to be simple, clear, few in number, effective. I came up with five.
1. Remember, you don’t have readers yet (thanks for this tidbit of wisdom, Josh Hanagarne).
2.This is NOT about a perfect text, this is about telling a story.
3. Even if you hate it, write it. You can fix it when the story is done.
4. Trust your ideas, they are good ones.
5. Do NOT harsh edit.
And with those rules written, I was able to shut off the critic in my head and write. I still have moments when I get stuck, need to take a break, but I refuse to re-read what I have put down. I will read the last few sentences from the day before to maintain the tone, get the story back in my head, but I haven’t deleted anything more than a sentence or two in 12 days. I’m on pace to finish. The story is coming, the ideas are there. I’m going to do it, finally.
I worked at the Salt Lake City Public Library for just over 10 years. During that time, I met hundreds of people, employees and patrons alike, who impacted my thinking, the course of my life. When working conditions overwhelmed me (my own weaknesses making a change necessary), when I could not see a way out of my current situation, I made a choice that not only saved my family, but most likely my sanity as well.
While leaving the library gave my broken psyche a chance to recover, allowed the stress to dissipate, I left behind too many friendships (thinking that I would surely keep in contact), that over the last three years have often faded into the background noise of our ever moving worlds.
Every year on November 11th, the library holds staff development day. The entire staff gathers at the main library for a day of presentations, training, discussion and team building. Even when the job was at its absolute worst, I adored Staff Development Day. The free food and coffee would be motivation enough, but the companionship, the conversations I had with fellow staff made even the most boring or frightening of presentations endurable.
Since leaving the library, every November 11th brings back the memory of those places, people and situations. It is on that day that I realize how much I miss being a librarian, working and interacting with so many like minded people.
I have rambled before about librarians, their commitment to freedom of information, access for any and all to everything possible. The longer I am apart from this environment, the more grateful I am for any chance to submerge myself in it again.
Yesterday, after the training was over, a group of library folk met at a local pub. It has become an annual tradition to meet at this particular place, share a drink and a laugh, some serious conversation about the direction and goals of the library, and almost always some dismay at a particular suggestion or course of action that many feel will be a poor one. I was grateful to be included in this tradition when I worked for the library, and it made me quite happy to be included yesterday.
I am amazed at how easily the last few years melted away and the sensation of belonging, still being a part of this group, returned. Too many months or in some cases, years since we have interacted were rendered meaningless in a matter of minutes. I am reminded that I have fantastic friends. I am grateful for their continued friendship and how our shared commitment to the free flow of information connects us.
Libraries are wonderful places, mostly because of the amazing people who work in them. They have my love, my respect, and even my envy.
The moments before the sun rises cannot be trusted. They thrive, shift and sway, manipulating the low light, deceiving. All my late night promises catch in my throat, my stories seem impossible, all the love in the world becomes make believe. Figures dancing and swaying in every shadow, some directly above me, spindle like fingers pulling hope from my heart like loose threads on an old sweater.
I become the epitome of desperation, a nightmare.
But there are times when I find myself half awake, the sun an hour away, fevered thoughts race-running through my head, a heavy chill on the dead summer wind, all of my missteps, my indiscretions rising up from the covers to bury me, and the instant before I am consumed, I remember you are next to me, hear the rise and fall of your breathing, see a silhouette curving up and out. In that second, somewhere between a blink and memory, you bring me out of it.
Somewhere, somehow, I have lost my gray knit hat. In the grand scheme of the universe, this is not so tragic, but in my world, right now, it means a great deal.
We have a connection, this hand knit hat and I. In the two winters we spent together, It protected and inspired me. It’s on my head in my Google account, my WordPress page, half my NYC pictures from last November. I wore it inside and out, day or night, it was so supremely comfortable. Somehow in the course of living, moving, unpacking, it never found a permanent place. Now it has vanished. I am unsure if I left it somewhere or it is just hiding in my house, but I am about out of reasonable places to look.
The hat represents friendship to me, in it’s purest form. It was knit for me by someone I admire and care about. She spent valuable time making something for me and that something was important to me. Now I’ve misplaced it, and though it was not on purposes, I feel like I did not appreciate and take care of what I had been given.
It’s just a hat. I have others, but I feel like I have lost a companion.
I’m sure there is a lesson here, some silly metaphor I can make about objects and appreciation, love and service, sacrifice and commitment and how these things apply beyond something made out of yarn and time.
I don’t care much about that. I just want my hat back.
If you see anyone wearing it, beat them senseless.
I am not afraid of my neighbors.
For the most part, experience has taught me most people are pretty decent. Not to say I haven’t associated with or come across people who showed very little compassion. In fact, like the rest of you, I have been around people who never seemed to have one kind thought, or happy moment. It is because the vast majority of our interactions are positive ones, that the really nasty moments stick out.
I remember being bullied as a kid and thinking, “don’t they see what a swell guy I am?” I even tried to say that to a kid when I was in 7th grade, getting a fist to the side of the head for my efforts. Maybe those bullies were swell guy to other people, though at the time I couldn’t see that. All I wanted was for them to go away.
Lucky for me, these interactions did not convince me to eschew people. I enjoyed meeting new people, finding new friends. Maybe because of that attitude (or maybe because we really were both swell guys), the 7th grade bully and I eventually became friends. Not the usual end to the bully story, but it was mine this time.
I am not afraid of the internet.
Social media has been a conundrum for me. It has revealed some of the worst humanity has to offer and I have to admit, I sometimes fear for the planet when I read or see what some people share and say. Internet access and social media make it easier for everyone to express whatever horrible things pop into their heads, instantly and to larger groups of people than they could two decades ago. still, I am convinced that the world is no more violent or corrupt than it has ever been. Information travels faster and to more people. Smart phones allow people to share events and break news before major media outlets. Things that used to take days or longer to disseminate, now take minutes or hours and events that perhaps might never have seen the light of day outside those they intimately affected, often impact people half a world away.
Good things get around faster as well.
The overwhelming majority of my online interactions have been with fantastic people. I am amazed and astounded that I can so easily communicate and share with people from all over the place with such little effort. The world becomes so much smaller when you engage in conversation with someone in Ireland, Indiana or Australia, while sitting at a computer in your own house. I have shared music, poetry, political arguments, family struggles and successes, art and literature, with people all over the planet.
What amazing possibilities present themselves. What incredible things can be accomplished.
It would be a horrible shame to miss out on those moments because I allowed fear to keep me away. There is far too much to see and do, learn and love. I think I will go out and see what there is to see.