I have been trying to make progress on a rewrite — a radical rewrite, a reboot! — of my novel. I have been trying to make progress despite having three teenaged daughters, a full-time teaching load, and various other concerns. It occurs to me that I have been in a similar place before.
Eighteen years ago I was trying to write a doctoral dissertation. I had 18-month old twin daughters. I was teaching at the University of Washington, on a teaching fellowship, two classes that fall quarter, if I remember right. I needed to make some progress on the dissertation, to show my committee that I was making progress. I felt, simply, that I was supposed to write a 250-page book, and I didn’t feel I could do it. How could I write a book when I couldn’t produce even a single chapter?
One morning, in a state, I called my friend Priscilla Long. She pointed out,very very gently, that I didn’t have to write the book today. All I had to do was write a page. All I had to do was start.
That couldn’t be good enough. My committee needed a chapter. What I had were notes from my exams, scribbles. I didn’t have a paragraph that I felt I could show them.
Of course you do, Priscilla said. Send me seven pages.
But it’s a mess, I argued.
She said that was no matter. I could show a mess to her.
Seven pages? Seven pages of a mess sounded doable.
So I printed out what I had, and of course I did not send it to Priscilla. I worked on it — now that it was printed out and double-spaced, working on it was possible. I made it a little better by working early in the morning before my classes, with a thermos of coffee beside me, at the Hub on campus. I didn’t have very much time, about 45 minutes. But over a few days I came up with seven pages that were less of a mess, and I mailed them to Priscilla.