I used to sit and watch the pouring rain, I used to wish to be back home again

May 18, 2007

Chalk another writer up to the cult of lowered standards. My mother-in-law passed along this interview with Walter Mosley on Talk of the Nation, in which he pretty much gives the same very solid advice that Prof. MacLeod and Anne Lamott give. If you want to write something, the thing to do is write whatever you can without worrying if it’s good or not. Keep your butt in the chair, as Mr. Mosley succinctly puts it.

That was how my morning started, after I had conveniently gotten my requisite two hours of writing in and allowed myself to start the aimless websurfing that takes up more of my time than I’d like to admit. I don’t normally get two hours of writing in before I start doing this every day, but since I had this day entirely off I had some self-discipline to spare. Of course, as I learned for the 100th time listening to Mr. Mosley, this needs to happen every day, even on days off and days with much more work to do. So that’s the plan for tomorrow, which is also a Saturday so not the greatest test of writing through the adversity of a hectic schedule, where I hope to start the process of forming a new habit.

I’ve done this new habit thing once before, and I really liked the results–that was when I was fifteen and started playing the oboe every single day, no matter what. And most days for two hours. It worked, in part because I got so high off of the macho feeling of having practiced for two hours every day.  Writing, however, has always seemed more daunting, perhaps because there’s really no such thing as “improvement” in the sense that there is with an instrument. If you play a certain number of scales every day, after enough days you are tangibly better at playing scales and probably other things too. If you write every day, some days you are going to feel good and other days you are going to feel just as bad as you ever did. Very rarely, you will write something you really like, and it will be the result of a good idea meeting a good amount of energy and self-confidence. At least that’s what I hear. I really only have experience with the second kind of day.

Still, there’s something missing in this “if you just throw enough hours at it method,” and I’m not worried about it just yet since I haven’t actually thrown enough hours to worry about it, but I know there is a little something that gets you past skill and practice and good ideas. It’s a certain kind of focus, and while just keeping your butt in the chair is 90% of the battle, this little piece cannot be faked. It’s the part of you that’s really, really trying, just trying so hard you think you can’t keep it up but you can. The part of you that is responsible for not just clearing the hurdle or covering a page, but doing it in a way that dignifies the act. Just a while longer, just one more run through or one more mile or one more sentence of real effort.

That’s the muscle that I think has gone soft on me.

So, it is resolved, this summer my mother-in-law and I are going to be accountable to each other for a certain number of pages every week. Mr. Mosley suggests 600 words a day, so I’m going to round that to two pages and that makes 14 pages a week. That’s the first 90%. The next ten percent, well, I’m going to work on that as I go along.

It’s official, I mailed in my cancellation to ALA. I will not be attending the library conference this year. Mostly as a consequence of not wanting to spend money that’s not coming in, I say, and mostly a consequence of my fear, D says. Who knows. All I know is right now I am relieved to have one less trip to plan and finance. There’s time for all that next year. I honestly don’t need it now.

There’s also an official bit of good news. D has a pass to attend the teaching job fair next week, even though they intially claimed that no social sciences candidates would be admitted. Plus, he’s got a plan to take the math certification test and get himself into both a higher pay bracket and a higher need area. Things for August are definitely looking up, so all the more reason to focus on what I can do right now to feel calm and keep taking deep breaths until then.

I’m almost finished with Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions, which is the book she wrote about her first year as a parent. I picked up Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives while we were on campus, paying tuition and catching up on our online television.

Right now D and I are settling in for a quiet Friday. There’s two potatoes baking in the oven, and I’m watching the sky cloud up and hoping that a nice hard rain will start falling, because right now nothing sounds better to me than sitting on the balcony and just watching it come down, a beer in one hand and nothing in the other.  Another day in which I steered mostly by undercurrents of fear and uncertainty has managed to shove its little gifts in my direction–an interview, a book, the thought of rain. D’s playing his Guster collection because the thought of rain made me think of one of their songs and I couldn’t remember which one. I just checked the mail, and my mother has sent me a book out of the blue. The world sometimes does try to show me that it can be trusted.


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