Corporate-sanctioned productivity doesn't seem to be in the cards today.
I've gotten a few things accomplished here at the office, but my head is decidedly elsewhere. Gunther, that little blue demon, is attempting Blogtime telepathy from my comfortable bed. Conspiring with a bright yellow duck, a tiny billy goat and that awful, adorable stuffed dog I got before I moved to New York, trying to lure me away to the Land Where Novels Are Written. Almost two full weeks before NaNoWriMo actually begins.
The Knight, in all his Shining Encouragement, would have me start a bit early, too.
In his professorial wisdom, he's given me an assignment to get the word ball rolling. A thousand-word "first chapter," followed by chapter breakdowns and a short description of each. He knows as well as I do that 50,000 words in 30 days has the potential to crush my spirit altogether, given how I cope with stress and pressure. I think this competition was meant for people who need less than eight hours of sleep a night — or who don't have to work.
It would be fine if I could get started a little early. The assignment is working its way toward the top of my list. Though things like meals and e-mails and Buffy the Vampire Slayer keep trumping it. Here's the problem: My mind is actually racing, but my fingers aren't doing any of the work to keep up. Because I'm freaked. To use a Buffy term. Which means all these pow-pow-pow synapses are just tiny, beautiful fireworks in my mind's sky. Nothing is actually catching fire; the ideas don't have a spot to land.
In an attempt to calm my anxieties about writing, I'm reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I read it years ago — before I thought of myself as a writer — and recalled the cover exactly in my head when someone suggested I pick it up. But I started it for the second time, and I realized the cover's about all I remembered. It's hilarious, and she obviously knows what she's talking about, but. But. A few things in Lamott's book have already caused me to bristle, like the idea of "shitty first drafts."
And? There's an entire chapter dedicated to abandoning perfectionism, which…double shudder.
Clearly I have some major mindset restructuring to do before November 1.
But I am determined to finish this book before I start my own, before NNWM begins. So I left work at 2:15, when I finally allowed myself to stop massaging — pummeling, disfiguring? — a 750-word piece on a new variety of lobelia written by an incredibly learned horticulturalist, a scientist who is charming and clever in real life but obviously not trained in the art of languages. (I blame the perfectionism on my editing background.) I went to Starbucks.
Because it's the only place to go in this suburban hell where my office happens to reside.
They all know me there. I don't know all of them, and that makes me feel like a bad person. But then again, maybe they know me because I pay them all about $25 a week. Give or take.
My reading was interrupted by two things: the two middle-aged men sitting nearby, agonizing over a fax they were trying to send over the Internet, and the two bees threatening to sting me repeatedly until I left their turf. The men were delightful, actually, but the bees scared the crap out of me.
The book was my paperback shield against them until the one that had taken a special liking to my left ear had flown away. A barista whose name I don't know was dispatched from behind the bar, armed with a rolled-up magazine, to slay the buzzing beasts, but she gave up all too quickly. "This is ridiculous," she muttered as she walked away. No tip for her. It's not always going to be pumpkin loaves and sugar-free syrup, lady!
The novel-writing process is going to be so arduous, I realize, trying to write one storyline that carries through pages and pages and pages. And chapters. Jesus, CHAPTERS. But I find a little comfort in this concept Lamott wrote about: Polaroids.
The idea of taking a Polaroid picture, just pointing and snapping and blinking from the intense light of the flash, feeling the photo paper spit violently out of the front and eagerly awaiting what develops. Because you have no idea.
You might be trying to capture a certain something in that little frame, but as the picture becomes clearer, you see that your aim was completely off and you really took a photo of something entirely different. And that's beautiful, too, maybe even nicer than your original composition. It's about watching what you write take shape as you go, and embracing and working with that because it's all you've got in that particular shot.
And if it's really awful, you can scrap it, take aim and give it another shot. (I added that part.)
I'm used to working in digital, so this is a new concept for me. But it's one I can get used to.
There's one thing Lamott recommends that I'm already doing, thank goodness: writing. It's not long; it's not brilliant; it's not really even related to This Big Project. But it's writing. It's practice; it's perspective; it's helping to loosen me up. Well. To unwind me, at least. I've got a long way to go to loose.