Only Writing

“Writing is the only thing I do that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” Gloria Steinem

I am working on my second novel. Until two weeks ago I had not touched it since the 17th May last year. I got married, first novel was published, other matters took precedence, and it slid into my peripheral vision.

Two days into it and I have so many questions: Who are all these characters and why are they gathered together in one place? Is it like when a queue forms outside an unmarked door in New York City and other people join the end of it simply because, well, it’s a queue? Here to make up numbers, are they? How can this story still have no beginning after all this time? Why such hifalutin language?

Some questions reflect my wandering attention: If my first novel was a song, what would it be? (I’m Only Happy When It Rains, by Garbage springs to mind) Then, with my second, am I working on a new sound?

Four days in and I hear a faint scratching, something’s coming through. Then I spy a glimmer of a link between an object in chapter three and this new character that appears in chapter seven and I get up from the table happy. Links are good.

Seven days in and I’m shocked by how little ground I have covered.  The hands on the clock seem to speed up, conspiring against me writing. I’ve been trying to compartmentalize. I heard that’s what Woody Allen does and it’s the reason he can successfully work on so many simultaneous projects. Have I really been sitting here two hours? I need to pack up now and get to the next thing, chop, chop! I’m like the Hugh Grant character in the film, About A Boy, who calculates his days in blocks of time: Lunch-30 minutes; working on this term’s syllabi–1 hour; gym-1 hour; choose paint color for bathroom with husband-15 minutes; blog commenting-45 minutes; phone calls- 1 hour…writing- 2 hours. I didn’t figure in the efficient use of fifteen minutes, determinedly gnawing my way through every fingernail, eyes glazed. Writing- 1 hour 45 minutes.

I cannot apply a calculation to the time spent feeling guilty for not writing. I cannot fence it into a tidy block. It comes when I’m doing all the other things, leaking across all my time. It’s like a manageable agitation that permeates every activity, an itch, a dull hum of anxiety, a restlessness. It rears up during conversation, niggles at me when I work out, presses me to cut short phone conversations, instills in me a fear of Skype, provokes me to roll my eyes excessively, makes me forgetful, and neglect to water the plants, and condemn friends as demanding, and  schedule social activities that clumsily pack all my friends together in one place, then  brush off their concerns that they get no quality time with me anymore. I miss our talks, laments one.

The guilt stops when I write; that’s the only reprieve.

Ten days in and I wonder how I can cover 30 pages in an hour of reading, yet can’t master writing 30 sentences in the same amount of time. How could the story that seemed so promising three days ago seem so mediocre today? Still no idea of the ending. Settle down, I tell myself, you’ve got the middle to get through first and you don’t know that either. And as for the beginning…there isn’t one.

From days 10 to 12, my heart is heavy as I can’t help wondering, Why would she do that? It’s implausible. Where’s the motivation?

Then, drifting concentration: I should be keeping up with the couture fashion shows online. That’s my job, after all.

Bare necessities

Bare necessities

Day 14–today–a girl comes into the cafe and sits down at the table next to me. She orders a glass of wine, pulls out a brand new orange notebook and presses it open at the first page. I watch her christen the faintly lined white paper with her black pen. The edges of the pages are orange just like the cover. Her pen slides fluidly along, quickly filling a quarter of the page: a block of text in a slim block of time.

Wine would loosen things up, I think, eyeing my lukewarm green tea. I can’t get close enough to read her words but I like how she looks making them: absorbed, purposeful, free. Round table, glass of wine, beaker of water, notebook, pen. The wine and water quiver at the motion of the pen. She is untempted by the counter of pastries. Crouched at work, she barely breaks her stride turning a page. Her word count today will be enviable.

Why doesn’t writing feel as easy as it looks?

I lift my gaze from her notebook back to my MacBook Pro before the guilt sets in.

My first novel is available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.

38 comments

  1. Great blog post. Don’t worry, you’ll get there! ♥ Nx
    http://www.niamhkelly.wordpress.com

  2. Great blog post. Don’t worry you’ll get there! ♥ Nx
    http://www.niamhkelly.wordpress.com

  3. I’ve been there – done that – doing it now! I don’t feel at all productive these days! 😦

    • Well, it’s really January’s fault. Big party-pooper, it is. Snuffs out the fire in all of us a bit. Although it’s snowing AGAIN where I am so there’s a slim chance I might stay put and accomplish something…slim, mind you! 🙂

  4. Good Luck — stay consistent and committed and it will come~XO

    • I will do as I am bid and follow your advice, Dievca. Nothing else for it. I commit to sitting my arse on this chair and not moving…but first a few words with my little blogging lovelies 🙂

  5. Nina Kaytel

    Ugh beginnings are the hardest. My third book took three months before I had one I liked. I had several two 30k words or longer. I feel your pain and offer you huggles.
    That Garbage song is now stuck in my head.

  6. Chalk it up to some astral disconnect. I feel like I wasted a week dancing around three characters that won’t come alive. My remedy has been burying my nose in The House of Mirth and feeling even more useless

    • The House of Mirth makes everything seem better, doesn’t it? But it finishes and the glare of reality can be even more shocking than before 🙂 Are you working on a novel..?

      • I am. It’s been sitting there for years. It’s very loosely based on facts that happened in my family at the end of World War II and the historical accuracy kept on daunting me. But I recently sat down, uncovered more documents and decided to just go for it. Doing it just for myself and then we will see. By the way, just ordered the paper version of your novel from Amazon (as I couldn’t download it on iBooks).

      • It sounds very intriguing especially as it’s based on events. Weeding through documents and dates etc might be a little tedious at the beginning when all you want to do is get writing but I bet having that framework to weave the story through will make the writing of it easier in the end. And anyway you can go back and factcheck seriously when you have your story down. I’m wishing you loads of luck with it. Thank you so much for choosing my novel–although you can buy Kindle version on Amazon. Is it not compatible with your device..? Look forward to your thoughts when you get to reading it! xo.

      • Will definitely let you know! Looking forward to a book set in my old Milan. And I do have an iPad although sofagirl keeps on bugging to get the kindle so we could share books. Yet another device to add to the pile!

  7. It feels so true ‘the guilt stops when I write, it’s the only reprieve’. Now that sounds like an opening line if I’ve ever heard one. I think that when you aren’t writing, you really ARE. In your head, the story and the characters are percolating away. Talk to your friends, pick out paint chips (really? 15 minutes? It takes me days) it doesn’t matter what you do. You are writing. Everything is moving along, you’ll see. All of a sudden…{Whoot} there it is. Like the 95 South song.

    • Well, in your case, this is definitely the truth! Words are exploding from you. I can see it right now, from all the way over here, like lava from Etna!! I feel the heat! Fireworks!
      Oh, and the 15 minute paint picking “final decision” happened two days after the 1 hour paint picking “short list” which happened several days after the long list…:-)

  8. Second novels are hideous. I felt the same way as you do when I went back to mine after a long absence. I did what I read Margaret Atwood often does (or at least I think it was Atwood; maybe it was someone else) and that was start in the middle and work out to the beginning. This freed up from the expectation that I HAD to have a strong beginning and I HAD to have to move my characters in a certain time sequence, etc. I’m finishing up the final edits so I have to admit that it worked. It was horrible and dreadful and at times almost unspeakable, but it worked.
    Have a glass of wine, stock up on chocolate and forget about the beginning. It will naturally flow, trust me on that.
    Cheers and happy writing.

    • I have done exactly that–decided for now the novel doesn’t need a beginning, it just is. And if it worked for you, then more power to my elbow! A glass of wine, you say…well, if it worked for you then more power to my… 🙂

  9. Creative thoughts are always with us I think. I don’t write but some of my best design and making thoughts come when I am out of my studio, usually when I am walking. What you do is incredible so nurture it. Don’t panic….it’s snoozing…

    • Interesting, I get quite inventive after a run. But not in this snow! Our cardio-inspired creativity must be something to do with the flow of oxygen, a loosening up of body and mind. Best not analyze and just keep counting on it working 🙂

  10. So honest – and so good to know it’s not just me! I intended to spend ALL DAY glued to my laptop yesterday, the words flowing smoothly as I’d now finally completed all my preparation for my second novel. 207 words. That was it. And I told myself that today I wouldn’t put myself under pressure – just write a couple of hundred words, that would be fine. And here I am, commenting on blogs and having managed precisely ZERO words. Ho hum.

    • Oh, it’s so not just you. My husband writes too and we share the same frustrations. It’s a tough business––but business is the wrong word because it’s precisely because it’s not a business that we have so many issues about it. Don’t forget, that’s 207 words that still advance the cause. You’re still moving forward. They might even turn out to be the 207 words that the whole thing hinges on, you never know. And while you are commenting on blogs, your brain is sieving through the important matters of your story and will be ready to deposit its findings on your page when you next visit the novel. Ho hum and write on, m’dear!

      • Ooh yes, I love that thing about sieving. Thank you – feeling much better about myself now that I know that’s what I’ve been doing all morning!

  11. Good luck..if I had a magic wand..but really, you don’t need it.. xxx

  12. I saw a quilted floor length printed skirt from the 60s today that you would have loved, Kate…see, procrastinating in a vintage store when shoulda been writing…lovely idea, that magic wand…thanks for the thought…It had a little matching belt and would have looked great with block heeled boots and one of your little strap on bags…:-) xxx

  13. So today I have finished reading “Silk for the feed dogs.” Seems like you could easily continue a few more chapters perhaps some bonus features for the DVD, some deleted scenes. Kat’s life did not end telling Edward she was – spoiler alert – no, not from me, you know how it ends but surely there is more to that story worthy of scribbling and scribbling leads to more scribbling and spin offs and short stories, and blogs. After all writing is expressing oneself. My problem has been writing to please, thinking about what someone may think about what I write or worse, what they may think about me for writing such a thing. I scare myself into second guess silence. I like that line – scared into second guess silence. Some writers like the deadline pressure or financial needs, others can’t work that way. Inspiration, motivation, love, connection, story, and characters woven into the fabric of a novel. That is no easy task yet one you have successfully accomplished. So give yourself a break – when it flows it flows when it doesn’t enjoy your many gifts many friends and admirers. Courageous Kat there is no stopping the flow for long. The breakthrough has arrived today….enjoy!

    • Thank yo so much for your thoughtful reply to my post and your generous consideration of my novel. It is much appreciated. If you care to put your thoughts into a review on Amazon, I’d be truly honored. WIth a photo of your majestic beard (only joking!) Since you asked, I think I’m happy to leave Kat for a little bit. We were living in each other’s pockets for so long and we began to rub each other up the wrong way. I’m sure I’ll crash into her in the future though 🙂
      I understand your hesitations about what people will think. I always go back to family in my mind–how will they react if I put that in etc, which is entirely wrongheaded. Our writing is our place. My second novel deals with more controversial subject matter and even today I thought about what some would think reading that passage. Truth is, we are sabotaging our own art with that thinking. Plough on regardless. This is our domain, our kingdom and we rule! The best writing is always the writing that seems authentic not the writing that seems cautious or polite. I’ve heard some of my favorite authors discuss this same issue but they write their way through it because they’re committed. No more “Second guess silence!” Thanks for your lovely words. PS. As it happens, I did have a little breakthrough today. Microscopic, it was…but still…;-)

      • I have posted my 5 star review of “Silk for the Feed Dogs” on Amazon which i should have proofed since editing is not an option. As for my beard – it awaits your skilful sketch pencils as therapy for us both.
        Love, Larry

      • Many many thanks, Larry. Glad you saw fit to choose my novel to read out of all the many options out there. Lovely review! Jackie Sent from my iPhone

        >

  14. Seconds are always more difficult than the firsts, aren’t they? Firsts are all about excitement and discovery, seconds are scary; because, by then, you’ve got the experience… you Know! Not a writer, of course, but I found this applying to just about everything I do! Worry not, once the scary block is overcome (and it will sooner or later) it will all come flowing back. And when we get to read the beginning, it will be with that much more appreciation… I raise a glass of red to new beginnings!

    • You’re so right, Lia. In all creative pursuits, seconds bring an air of cynicism, of repetition, routine, habit–all things not associated with good art! The going is more hilly, whereas my first novel was like rolling down a long sloped daisy field like I did when I was a kid, not knowing if I was going to roll over a huge stone or barbed wire and bend up in hospital but getting to the bottom, horribly nauseous but giggling and covered in grass stains!

  15. Such an honest and open post…
    and the interesting thing is…
    you’re writing!! 😉
    “writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”
    ― Charles Bukowski, The Last Night of the Earth Poems

  16. Loved it! I’m learning that hurdles will always be there to be overcome, even for the most experienced authors. Writing one novel doesn’t necessarily mean the next one will be any easier. Maybe that’s a good thing. Even though we can create these alternative worlds, we are not gods. The challenges keep us humble.

    Next time, just take a notebook and set it next to your Macbook Pro. That’s the only advice I can give you 🙂

    • That’s a good outlook.
      On one hand, I know what’s ahead, the amount of work and time required, the routine I must stick to…so a lot of it is the same. But the story is different and that changes everything. Plus I automatically have higher expectations for this one which adds new pressure…best not dwell on all this and just write! Speaking of which, that’s a clever tactic: notebook on Macbook! Good thinking 🙂

  17. “Why doesn’t writing feel as easy as it looks?”

    If you find the answer, please share, I am sure it wuill make you rich 🙂

  18. I’ll bottle it, label it “The Write Stuff” and peddle it on my blog 🙂

  19. Pingback: Writing a bible for the wrongness |

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