A Long Day in the Short Life (of a Writer)
Writers wander and seek and think and very little do they write. But they’re always working.
Let’s start here.
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” — Virginia Woolf
In my small room, I review my grinding daily schedule, which includes coffee, cats, creativity, suffering, a badger, reading, coffee, cats.
Perhaps some writing.
Wait, a badger? How’d he get in there?!
I’d better chase that badger. He might be going somewhere interesting.
“A writer is always working.” — William Zinsser
Zinsser forgot to add, perhaps at the detriment to his statement, “Even when pondering badgers.”
So, right now… I’m working. Writing this, I’m working and improving. Working is practice and practice makes perfect.
Except, it will never be perfect. Perfect implies contentment, that anodyne of creative fires. Contentment.
“The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility.” — Francis Bacon
Which brings me to suffering. Suffering — and surviving — is a large part of learning, growing, mostly, and connecting to the world. Surviving spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Not just surviving, thriving.
I survive. Ten percent of my day will be in tears. Mine. Other people’s.
But it has to be beyond pain. Beyond catharsis. Beyond self. It has to be bigger. Has to be everyone’s.
Where has that badger gone? I should have written him down immediately. I lost him now. Maybe he’ll run by again. I’ll be ready for him this time, I’ll catch him by his hind legs.
Thinking. Noticing. Compiling. Filing. Coding. This I have become. A scientific system to intake, codify, and store all the flotsam that might come into my work and may or not be useful years from now.
“There seems to be a fairly constant wish to build a coherent, wholesome, scaffolding around the essentially lonely, aberrant and certainly unjustifiable act of writing.” — Joan Frank
There is neuroscience behind daydreaming has now claimed this once-labeled lazy, fanciful activity is now suspected to be an an essential cognitive tool.
And then we organize time of no organization. No findings. Nothing but freedom.
How does one organize freedom?
The United States government with a surfeit of taxpayer dollars hasn’t figured out how to organize freedom. Or even disorganize it. Or do anything with it but hold it like a wave on the shore or the sun in the sky.
So how the hell am I supposed to?
Start with time. I’ll organize time, I can do that. I’m trained. I’ll cut out time. I’ll do things in advance.
In advance of what, exactly? In advance of then. But when? Now. But when is then? When? Just now. When will then be now? Soon.
Not that they matter, any of these things.
“In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me.” — Kurt Vonnegut
Exercise. Work. Coffee. Reading. Alcohol. WAIT!? How did exercise get in there?!
I should exercise. The bit of me that writes stories might just be suffocating the bits that feed those bits. Where is that damn badger? I feel he’s now even bigger and yet ever more hidden. I feel like I have to run after him.
“No matter how you look or how much money you have, you still have to learn your craft.” — Billie Jean King
She’s not wrong.
Style. Character. Structure. Plot. Scenery. Words.
Let’s take it one by one. Improve each. Improve all. Balance synergies and connections. It becomes too technical. Too much process.
I feel so disconnected from it, now. All of it. Is this me? Is this anything?
Lose all hope. Then comes the real heartbreak. I sure could use that badger right now. Or something furry to cuddle and love.
This is when I have to step away. Walk away fast, sturdily, to create distance and perspective. Must have these things to reconnect to the work.
“Down in her soul, the while, she was waiting for something to happen.” — Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
It will be OK. It will pull me back in now. To get to something, an original thought. Must get to that. Must write through and through until I find it. Until it comes back.
Humans have 70,000 thoughts in a day. I have 70,000 thoughts in a day. I write down as many as I can. I organize. Scatter. Reform. Build. Chase. Destroy. Like a child arranging bright construction paper cutouts on a table. Or letter magnets on a fridge. Rubik’s Dodecahedron.
Words on a page to make a story.
And when you get it out, it makes perfect, perfect sense. Then you know you’re good.
“Redismembers invalids of old guard find poussepousse pousseypram to sate the sort of their butt. For her passkey supply to the janitrix, the mistress Kathe.” — James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake
Humans let their minds wander 47% of the day. I try to make it 90%. I chase thoughts like badgers. I write the remaining 10%. Mostly nonsense. Not the same 10% I spend in tears or smiles, that is a different 10%.
Tomorrow, I’ll do it right. I’ll put the colors in line. The words in order. I’ll find the badger or forget about him. Today was a long day. But a good day. A normal one.
Thank you for reading. If you would read more about writing, humans, and general thoughts about difficult things, sign up for my mailing list at www.ellenvrana.com