Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On Writing

Writing is a strange process.

That's true in lots of ways, I suppose, but I'm thinking particularly of its rhythm. Last night, for example, I spent a few hours down the pub working on something with pen and paper. It was a great session, but any stranger observing me closely might've been dubious of that at certain points. I probably spent the first 30 or 45 minutes staring into space, very occasionally making a point form note on the page, sometimes staring in puzzlement at the three computer printed pages that contained bits of a previous version to be fit into a new framework I hadn't yet developed with lots of new text I hadn't yet written. Then I wrote frantically for a period of time, and then slowly lost a bit of steam so that the last half of the document was outlined in more point form notes rather than written in full text, but this time not random things to remember and figure out but a detailed structure for the flow of the narrative.

Add to this, in general though not yesterday, the additional lead time required when I'm forced to be away from my central project for two days, four days, a week. I sometimes need a little time to overcome anxiety and actually get into it again, and after an interval away I always need time to get my head back up to speed as to the shape of things when I last picked up a pen with intent.

I've written enough chapters (some twice or more, some once but regretfully discarded) to get a sense of rhythm there too. First, way more reading than I expect, and eventually (usually) more than I actually need. Then a few days of avoiding writing, which blend into a period -- days, very occasionally up to a couple of weeks -- of a lot of sitting, looking morosely at page or screen, and trying to figure out a structure, a concept, a lead. Then frantic writing, some frantic splicing of interview material, several cycles of hardcopy editing then electronic copy editing, and, bam, it's ready for my partner to see. The early steps are sometimes agony and the later ones done before I know it, and it always feels like I'm wasting precious time before pen starts reliably hitting the page, a particular kind of ecstasy when it's all really flowing, and a sense of weary contentment once it's done. I'm getting to understand that all of those things, including the gestation, the percolation, the staring at nothing, are a necessary part of the process.

I'm interested to see how things change in two weeks. Details are not quite decided, because we have been presented with unexpected choices, but L starts some kind of part-time out-of-home care arrangement then -- probably a Montessori pre-school three mornings a week, but other options and frequencies are still possible. My feelings about this are actually kind of complicated and I won't go into all of it here, but one reaction that sometimes makes itself felt is scoffing that the additional hours it will give me will make much difference. But, man, it really might -- those are not just any hours, but guaranteed prime work time hours that are not susceptible to erosion through fickle pre-schooler napping or end-of-day daddy exhaustion. All I'll need to do is make sure I'm out of bed (and that which will wake me has no snooze button) and injected with coffee, and I should be set to work. Or stare off into space. Or even read, if I absolutely have to do that before writing another word.

But by introducing more prime productive hours per week, it will change the ratio between that kind of time and more passive time for reading, thinking, and unconscious percolation. I think as positive a change as part-time pre-school will turn out to be, it will take a little getting used to in terms of its impact on the rhythm of my time and my writing.

Though my feelings remain mixed in certain respects, I think I'm getting a little bit eager to find out.

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