This is my first actual week of being a stay at home writer (SAHW, as opposed to a SAHM—an acronym I learned just this morning). I’ve been thinking about writing a lot these past four weeks, but this is my first week at home since I quit my job at the end of July. I’ve been busy flitting about the countryside. And doing other creative things in an attempt to jump start my writing. I made this linocut thingy last night, dabbling in some of my favorite subjects: religion and psychopharmaceuticals.
|INRIRX (copyright Pamela Helberg)
In anticipation and in spite of staying up really late working on whatever this is (I’ve titled in INRI RX), I woke up at five this morning, ready to go. But my eyes were gritty and I couldn’t concentrate, so I tweaked my platform a bit (i.e. I monitored Twitter), played some Gin Rummy on my phone, and gave it another shot closer to 8 a.m. I got a good four hours of work in, a couple thousand words. But, man, it was a slog.
There’s this thing that happens when I write—I tend to get all Hemingway-esque (or so I’m told) and scrimp on the details. When I am sitting there, trying to tap into my feelings, trying to fill in descriptions (of people, the landscape, the room, my state of mind) I think to myself “well, that’s a lot of words. Who would want to read that much about me or what I think?” It’s so hard, this telling of my story, trying to figure out what people need to know, what they don’t. What makes for an interesting tale as opposed to what has actually happened to me. So, I’ve been practicing just writing it all down, every little detail, as much as I can remember, regardless of how personal, how minute. I figure what the hell, at least I’ll have some material to work with.
I pulled out my notes from a few months ago, from when my writing group critiqued this chapter, the one I’m currently working on. Nearly to a person, my writing buddies all said basically the same thing: that it is really three chapters, not one. This is not 15 pages, more like 50 pages.
So I started grinding out the details the best I could this morning, trying to get my first 100 pages reworked in order to send it out to a prospective agent, and a funny thing happened. This huge thematic thread just opened up, burst forth so unexpectedly I nearly wept.
I was just writing along, trying to make my undergraduate years sound somewhat intriguing, getting the words out there knowing that I could go back and add some shape later. That nagging voice (on one shoulder) was nattering away at me the whole time: “who cares that you were an English major? Who cares that you loved your 19th Century Poetry instructor? Why are you writing that? That’s so stoopit!”
On my other shoulder was this guy: “You were so ignorant then. You really wasted your life. What a shame. Too bad you didn’t get it together sooner. Think of what you could have accomplished.” I shoved them both to the background and continued on, writing (inexplicably really, since I haven’t ever written about this) about my English classes, and I came to Victorian Lit and Jude the Obscureand Dr. Meredith Cary, professor extraordinaire.
Jude Fawley. Sue Bridehead. Scholarship. Religion. Sex. Illicit relationships. Depression. I mean, OH MY GOD! Could my muse have whacked me upside the head any harder?
So this is why we sit our butts in the chair and try to quiet those damn voices, for moments like these, when we have all these impossibly unrelated events and plot points and suddenly it all starts to make sense, to coalesce.
(I can’t believe it took me this long to figure it out. Think how much further along I’d be if I’d done it sooner.)