Someone Ought to Write That Down

July 3, 2009 at 9:03 am (Uncategorized)

It’s late for me to be posting on a Friday night, after six here on a chilly Man Town evening. I went for a walk at sunset – my first proper walk since last Wednesday’s procedure – and kept my eyes peeled, but the breaching whales Llew saw on the ferry going into work this morning were long gone (more on that story here. And they call this public transport?! Are you kidding me?!). As you can imagine, given I usually run several times a week, I’m starting to go barking mad for the lack of exercise. I feel a lot better just for the fresh air – and it is fresh. L, my Man Town-based writer friend, has completed her second consecutive Friday Writing Day at Chez J. She just wasn’t able to start working seriously on her novel at her own desk at home. It’s too closely associated with her day job, and she was finding herself constantly interrupted. “Well,” I said to her over coffee a couple of months ago, “you’re welcome to try working at my place.”

Friday is L’s designated writing day, and we’re finally doing it. I work in my office, and L has the lounge/dining room to herself. It’s a nice room, actually, and she’s very happy there so far. Having her here is fantastic for me, too. Just as I work like a loaded gun when I’m with the Darklings (we all beaver away like mad, it’s quite interesting how motivating it is imagining that everyone else is writing up a storm), so too have I found the last two Fridays a real boon. Well. I was working on MS #2 really well last week until lunch, and then I got VR’s manuscript assessment, and that kind of finished me off for the rest of the day, week, month of June. But today was great! And L is making superb progress too. She set herself a minimum word count of 2,000 every Friday, and she’s on track, Which is 4,000 words she didn’t have 8 days ago. It’s really exciting. And she brings baked goods.

We break and have a coffee or tea and a great breakneck chat about what we’re each doing, and then we go back to work. It’s basically identical to the individual work set-up at Varuna, and to the Virtual Varuna the other Darklings and I managed to create down at Aireys Inlet. It’s brilliant knowing there’s another writer in the house. It even feels nice. I don’t know why. It just does. I love it, and I am so happy L is finally coming and finally writing her book. At my house, no less! Oh, I would love to have a big rambling terrace at my disposal to turn into a permanent creative hothouse, preferably down in The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, a writers’ studio with a room of one’s own for you and you and you and you. I fantasise about this place a lot. I can imagine it so clearly. But since I don’t have the means to open a Sydney Writers’ House, I’ll settle for opening my home to L so that she can do what needs to be done. It’s a good start.

Anyway, I got the nastiest shock yesterday when Darkling C noted in an email that my most recent draft (which I think was my seventh, but who’s counting?) was really only a first draft if you consider that I’ve only just found The Story. Yes, it’s true. It was only in writing the last draft that any sort of proper story started taking shape. I shuddered reading those words, though. My first draft? Oh please god no. Really? Say it isn’t so. But of course she’s right, and I’ll tell you something else. In Stephen King’s book On Writing, there’s this chapter on story where he likens it to a pre-existing fossil it’s up the author to excavate. I read and reread this passage umpteen times, because I just didn’t know what the fucking hell he was talking about. There’s no fossil, I huffed. Fossil? What’s he talking about ‘fossil’? I got nuttin’, Stevie, nuttin’! And then yesterday I realised that’s what that last draft was about. My fossil.

But now that I know I’ve glimpsed my fossil, I also know I haven’t even really begun my excavation. What happened last draft is that I identified the site. I cordoned it off with tape. That’s pretty much it. This is where my fossil lies. And I think he’s right when he says it was always there. I’ve just tilled a shitload of soil trying to ascertain if I was remotely in the right place to start digging, but at least now I know – and I know – I am. I have to let go of this extended metaphor now, it’s killing me. The main point is that now I have to bring the thing out, out into the light.

I was discussing all this with Llew last night, and about how that draft one idea was like a punch in the guts at first, and wondering aloud if I would be able to ‘excavate my fossil’ without destroying it and the surrounding countryside, and he shook his head, raised his glass and said, “Welcome to your mid-write crisis.”

Naturally I burst out laughing. A mid-write crisis. Perfect. I just had to share that with you. I love it. And him.

The good news is that I think I had a structural, thematic breakthrough today. It’s too early to tell, but it feels like I know something now I didn’t know before: the outline, the shape, the core dimensions of my fossil. Do I have the right equipment? Am I even the right person for the job? I honestly don’t know, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Gulp. Here goes…. Oh, and another crisis was averted today: I am definitely not off my coffee. I made my own this time, and had two. Back in business.

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14 Comments

  1. Charlotte said,

    Thank god you are back on the coffee. I had to drink double my usual out of anxiety about it. Also good work on the fossil excavating. With my last book I found the fossil existed after two years and three drafts, when I finally discovered whose story it was. Echh, Hate work, don’t you?

    And opening your house to another writer is a very good thing to do. I speak from experience, having written a great portion of my second book in someone else’s house. My dear friends gave me a key, and would go to work, and then I would arrive and work. It was much better than being in my own place, because I couldn’t intrude on their space by cooking, rummaging through their drawers to chuck stuff out, digging up their garden, reading their books, etc etc. Had to just work. So you are a good woman for providing this very necessary service. And am v pleased to hear of the roll-on effect. It’s that gift karma thang, rolling on around the place …

  2. charlotteotter said,

    Hey there’s a Charlotte up there! Must go and check out her blog.

    How I would love, love, love to attend a writers’ colony, whether it was a small one in my own home with another writerly friend, or something bigger.

    I’ve just finished On Writing myself and that fossil quote stuck with me – especially as I’m now rewriting draft two with a first person instead of a third person narrator. Each draft is taking me closer to my fossil. I found the concept very comforting.

    Glad to hear your coffee’s working for you again.

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    Excellent on all counts! I love that expression. I think I’ve experienced a mid-write crisis too. Maybe I always do!

  4. doctordi said,

    Charlotte, I’m relieved, too – I’d hate to ramp up anyone else’s addiction by proxy! And I’m relieved because coffee is a genuine companion of mine. We go back a long way together. I wonder if it was something to do with recovering from the general? A mystery. I’m still lagging six months behind your own belated fossil identification story, but I greatly appreciate the perspective. I think I’m going to start calling this new round my second draft. It sounds so much better than, “Oh, this…? Um. Yeah. That would be my eighth attempt.”
    And yes, that’s exactly what L says, it’s great, no distractions, no pets, no phone calls, just her computer screen staring back at her. I did also think of your karmic roll-on effect yesterday and was very pleased to think this might be a tiny part of it, but as I said, I also get enormous amounts out of having her here, so I suspect that’s cheating.

    Yes, Charlotte, there is another Charlotte, and you should definitely check out her blog, I know you will enjoy it, I love its combination of my favourite things. And I wish you were closer, you’d be very welcome here. Exciting about your own fossil – the idea does lodge pretty stubbornly, doesn’t it? So effective! That shift from third to first is huge – very exciting, especially in your case because The Voice came to you like a wrapped gift. Wonderful!

    I love it too, Lilian, it cracks me up. I wonder if it’s a necessary part of the process? I guess every writer is different, and so is every book. But at least now we know what to call it!

  5. Catherine said,

    I can’t wait to get to my mid-write crisis. I’m so far away I don’t think that what will eventually turn out to be my fossil has even died yet, but you continue to be my inspiration Di so maybe, one day, I’ll get there. And I want in on the writing house karma – why is that I finally got writing friends in Sydney just after I moved away?

    C xx

    PS Going off coffee? What were you thinking?

  6. litlove said,

    I’m with Catherine – a mid-write crisis (which is indeed a great phrase) would imply more words than I currently have. I’d love to have a friend in the next room to egg me on, as it were. Sounds very companionable indeed!

  7. doctordi said,

    The coffee thing was weird, C. I am putting it down to residual head weirdness after the general, where I felt a low-level anxiety about possible migraines. Sometimes my body gives me little warning signals, and I think that’s what happened. But I’m drinking a cup right now and it’s lovely.

    Yes, I was thinking of you and Deb and lamenting neither of you are close enough that my little two-berth writing house would be a practical option for either of you. The tyranny of distance strikes again. At least you have your own set-up at home. Having said that, if you don’t think it’s sheer insanity and a waste of time and petrol, you can of course work here any time you like. You have your fossil! What are you talking about?! It’s like you identified it via satellite in the very first instance. I’ve so envied you for knowing your story from day one. Mate, I’d strongly caution against turning to me for inspiration – no need for both of us to get into trouble!

    Litlove, that’s true. I need to just accept that I write a lot – a LOT – of destined-to-be-wasted words. My thesis was the same. Tens of thousands of words jettisoned along the way. So I need to stop thinking in terms of number of drafts because it stopped being helpful a little while ago, when it became slightly shameful to me instead. Who needs that? This is hard enough, quite frankly. And it is hugely companionable. I really love it.

  8. Simonne said,

    How wonderful, to open your house up to another writer, what a great idea. I too loved that fossil quote in On Writing, and it’s such an amazing thing when it happens all of a sudden. I’m so happy for you that you’ve found your fossil. And coffee of course! Go girl!

  9. Grad said,

    I only drink one cup of coffee a day, but it MUST be strong and I prefer Paul Newman’s Extra Bold (delicious and makes me feel saintly) I’ve got one of those Keurig’s, which makes outstanding coffee. Could never give it up – even for Lent (sorry, God). Good for you with the writing set-up. I have new found admiration for writers – it’s not easy work. I would have no idea of how to begin, but I’m grateful for those that do.

  10. doctordi said,

    Simonne, I highly recommend the writing buddy system. I think it’s fab. It seems everyone’s struck by the fossil quote – I guess that’s why Stephen King is, well, Stephen King!

    Grad, I love Paul Newman. That’s all I’m going to say about that. I have a Bialetti. Actually, I have two. Old school Italian stovetop number. I am a big fan. And you’re absolutely right. Just in case anyone reading this thinks writing is easy, let me just say right now, in no uncertain terms, that it is as hard as all hell. Try it and you’ll see. Really. Go ahead. The more the merrier. And Grad, I’m also incredibly grateful to those who have persevered and made it to the other side – their work inspires and guides and challenges me every day.

  11. Pete said,

    My heart just sank when I read that about the second draft which is (whisper it softly) an eighth draft. But I also like the fossil analogy and I was happy and sad at the same time that you have your buddy L to write with on a Friday. Sounds like a winning formula. Good luck with the next stage of the fossil process, whatever it is.

  12. doctordi said,

    Pete, why sad?! Oh yeah, the number of drafts, that pummels my heart too, but the L situation is all happy, happy, joy, joy. A real no tears formula, just like Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo. Thanks – I *clearly* need all the luck I can get!

  13. Pete said,

    Di, the sadness is pure selfishness on my part. I want a friend like that too – someone whose house I can just pitch up at and write away the whole day (with some coffee-breaks and good conversation thrown in too)! And as for the luck, I think you just need time and space to grow this baby. Sorry for the cliched analogy – was going to go with putting flesh and bones on the fossil and making it come to life but that just made me think of “Night at the Museum” and that just won’t do!

  14. doctordi said,

    Ha ha ha, it’s a bit like that, isn’t it?! But yes, time, space – they seem to be pretty key components. It took me four and a half years to get my thesis up to scratch, but part of me definitely hoped it wouldn’t take as long with this novel. I am now inclined to think it probably will. In those terms I’ve just passed the halfway mark. Sigh. A long gestation indeed.

    As for the writing house… I bet you could sort out something similar… don’t forget, I basically STALKED L after the Sydney Writers’ Festival – I was so desperate to meet other writers, and after I met her at that horrible session, I hunted her down and made her have coffee with me. Your writing buddy is out there, Pete, it’s just neither of you necessarily know it yet.

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