“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.
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.