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.