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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

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Off the Treadmill

The first two-thirds of December was a treadmill system of processes. Do some grading. Step off that treadmill to go to a meeting. Work with a student freaking out about finals. Back on the grading belt. When all those belts reached their termini, jump on the neverending deal-with-those-piles-of-papers-littering-your-office treadmill, on which I do what I can, make a little progress, then happily leave. All of these things had to get done, and I got them done.

In the second third of the month, I’ve been in vacation mode. It’s usually a pleasant time of maintaining daily/weekly chores, making sure I exercise, and otherwise figuring out what to do with time that is as yet unscheduled. I’m grateful for this time and understand most people don’t get so much; I’m not going to whine about that. But the openendedness messes with my head. I spend most of my life wishing I had time of my own, then when I do, I don’t know what to do with it. I’m not unusual in this way; lots of us feel this frustration. We’re too busy being busy to plan what we’ll do when we’re not busy.

Having more time has not resulted in spending more time on the novel, but I’ve maintained my daily time commitment, occasionally putting in a little more. If anything, I feel less optimistic about the project, which has become a small city of treadmills–imagine That OK Go Video but filmed on a backlot. The process is enormous. I know what I want to do, and it takes as much time as it takes. Having a windfall of time doesn’t speed things up. It’s like winning a $5000 scratch-off and thinking you’re going to buy a house with it. It’s a good thing, a minor boost, but when you land, you’ve got to keep pace so you don’t get tangled up in the conveyer belts.

Actually, the treadmill metaphor fits novel writing only if I add that I have to simultaneously ride the bike that powers the conveyance for the entire small city. I toss people on the belts, and they move along them, between them, among them, straight line to straight line. So much complexity devolves into tedious complication over years of this process, interesting like a puzzle, but where’s the story? I need something more like That Feist Video, where it appears I’m alone at first but the small city is, in fact, human-powered, and I’m responsible for running the action. The first few minutes are the hardest, feeling as if something else is still moving you, figuring out how to do it on your own, using muscles you haven’t used in a while.

Staying connected with other writers has helped me maintain momentum. We’ve compared notes, but I’ve protected my work and myself, carefully selecting the best stuff to share, then using the responses to tighten that small part. Those small successes are great but don’t speak for the whole piece. Now it’s time to gradually test larger sections with trusted readers. To begin the humanization effort, I’ve asked Doug to read part of the novel. I explained to him that, except for the short excerpts I’ve been sharing with my writing group, I’ve been writing in a vacuum. It’s a problem he doesn’t have to deal with as a director, and although some days he’d loooooove to work alone, he understands that synergy is crucial to his artistic process and sympathizes with me.

I gave him the first 80 pages, and he didn’t balk. He read 40 of those pages last night and, although I didn’t yet want to know what he thought, I was relieved he didn’t vomit or fall asleep. I’m looking forward to the conversation we’ll have. It’ll hurt a bit, which I’ll hate at the time but feel good about later. When I feel lost in possibilities, he’s great at pointing out thing that help me restructure what I’ve written to get the results I want.

I’m lucky to have someone I trust personally and artistically. He can hate what I’m doing while respecting that I can’t rest until I figure out how to make it work. The point of all this obsessing about process is to create a product. Something for commenters to write “Meh” about on Amazon. Something that critics too lazy to write their own books can spend words re-envisioning. Something that, regardless of what others think, is a book I’ve always wanted to read.

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