Synchronicity…and Joy

“Like many societies, the novel is a hybrid construction pretending to be an organic miracle. From its beginnings, fiction has had borderless relations with nonfictional sources, has found ways to incorporate and exploit journalism, biography, historical texts, correspondence, advertisements, and images. But, since fiction is an invention masquerading as a truth, the riot of intertextuality is often craftily smoothed into a simulacrum of orderly governance: these different materials, the novelist seems to say, possess an equivalent fictionality, and just naturally belong together like this–trust me. Some of the pleasure of reading novels, perhaps especially modernist and postmodernist ones, has to do with our simultaneous apprehension of invention and its concealment, raw construction and high finish. We enjoy watching the novelist play the game of truthtelling.” James Wood, The New Yorker (June 23, 2014)

A lot of three-dollar words there (sorry), but a rather splendid idea, and one I had been thinking about all day, even before coming home and finding that a new issue of The New Yorker had arrived.

My new writing project is a novel set in 1926. Its point-of-origin is a family story, an anecdote really, about my great uncle and his courtship of a married woman. I know NOTHING about this, mind you, only the anecdote, that’s how my family tells stories, one line. But that’s been enough to entice me into creating an entire fictional world around a couple in a small town between the world wars.  My main character is the woman, and I’ve made her husband (the current one) her second husband. Her first, the love of her life (or so she thought) and the father of her two children, died in the Great War.

While getting my initial 30,000 words scribbled and typed (now at 23,000…and another notebook still to be transcribed) one of the issues I’ve wrestled with is HOW to bring the Great War more into focus. Yesterday, I found a book of oral histories, The Last of the Doughboys, by Richard Rubin, which is basically an answer to prayer. Interestingly enough, the timeline I had developed for my married woman and her first husband exactly fits with the history of the 91st Infantry Division, which started out from Camp Lewis near Tacoma, Washington.  Synchronicity. Or a big old miracle. Anyway, that was my moment of joy yesterday, sitting in a book store with a grin on my face, lapping up the pages.

That, and meeting a dog trainer last night who totally “gets” our dog.


Jhumpa Lahiri on the Writing Process

I found this video at Aerogramme Writer’s Studio, and wanted to share it.

“We are graced and limited by our own pair of eyes.”

Be a big cup!

“Don’t be a thimble when you can be a big cup. Expand your capacity to be happy and fulfilled, to create and enjoy your creations by expanding your heart and generous spirit. Lighten up. Hang loose. Take it easy. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Know that you are a holy vessel, a child of the universe, and all your desires are only a natural urge to exercise your divinity.” –Sonia Choquette (Your Heart’s Desire, 197)

I have been thinking for several days about sharing this quote. Probably my previous blog post, “Keeping it real…small” inspired this ramble, and in order to get work done it does help to keep it small, to write “in the cracks” (as Steven Pressfield puts it in his blogpost today…nice synchronicity there).

When I’m reluctant to write, when I’m feeling stuck, when I’ve had feedback that makes me want to quit, it really, really helps to think small.

Okay, Bethany, what if you just write for 15 minutes? Okay, Bethany, if you can’t write for 15 minutes, can you write for 5 minutes?

Just 5 minutes! How can I say no to that?

I use the same strategy when I’m negotiating with my daughters to get just a little work done. Five minutes with the guitar, how hard can that be! Five minutes on the science homework…  They can’t say no to five minutes, and neither can I.

And, here’s the key to how the whole thing works: Five minutes ALWAYS turns into more. And that’s where the “big cup” begins. 

One of my students, a 17-year old who had the world by the tail, recently told me, “I am very ambitious.” She wanted to be a novelist and she wanted me to tell her how to do that. Wow. The chutzpah!

But, yes. First, you have to imagine it, and you might as well imagine it big. Be ambitious for your dreams. To get yourself rolling, today, you might begin with a thimble.




One Day at a Time

Between doctor appointments (mine and a daughter’s), a visit to my mom, and two quick trips to Bellingham, I am still writing. I now have about 16,000 words (14,000 of them typed). Yesterday I wrote my 500 words in my parked car, late in the afternoon while (ostensibly) running an errand. At Lauren Sapala’s blog, she calls this having faith in the process. Just 500 words, that isn’t so much. What’s the big deal if I miss a day? I’ll write 1000 tomorrow–I promise!

But it is a big deal, because writing every day (this would be true even if it were one, 17-syllable long sentence) is what creates the foundation for writing every day.

I’m reminded of my creative writing student Nathalie who used to come into class and shout, “I have 40 days!” “I have 41 days!” She was a recovering addict, and when she disappeared around mid-quarter, for about a week, I worried. When she came back, slinking in and sitting down as though she wished she were invisible, we couldn’t help but look at her, and wait. She raised her chin, looked back at us, and said, “I have one day.” By the end of the quarter, though, she had 17 days. One day generates the momentum for the next.

My daughters are on their way to the Lady Gaga concert at Key Arena this evening. And you think I’m obsessed with working every day on your art?