Dispatches from the Land of Steady: October 16

The requirement: up early and draft the words. That’s what I call steady and that’s what my Writing Big Year, 2017’s main effort, entails. But on this gray Monday, with exactly twelve weeks remaining, a soft despair grips me.

So many symptoms abound, the clearest being sleep-ins, but I’ve been through this before and the true underlying reason is simple. I’m afraid. The words I’ve drafted are gauche and this next section doesn’t admit an easy opening para.

I now seek two ways forward. One is the equivalent of open-heart surgery, a jolt to how I do things. The other is quiet, selfish immersion, the mind churning options. Neither is easy to do when in the thrall of despair.

One line impelled Sherman Alexie

For writers and wouldlovetowrite-ers, burrow into Light the Dark: Writing on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process edited by Joe Fassler, which assembles 46 of his “By Heart” columns in The Atlantic. Fassler asks every author: What inspires you?

I’ve only begun my read but I’m hooked. How’s this for powerful? 30 years ago, brilliant author Sherman Alexie was gobsmacked by a single line of poetry, remembering:

I’d thought about medicine. I’d thought about law. I’d thought about business. But that line made me want to drop everything and be a poet. It was that earthshaking. I was a reservation Indian. I had no options. Being a writer wasn’t anywhere near the menu. So, it wasn’t a lightning bolt—it was an atomic bomb. I read it and thought, “This is what I want to do.”

Writing Big Year: A plot?

Wanna write a murder mystery? Can’t come up with a plot? Look around! A guy who married badly for just one year kills himself. Will his widow get the loot? Turns out he composed a text message on his phone, leaving his belongings to his brother, not the widow, but never sent the message. Is it a valid will? The parties battle in court. The widow loses. Imagine Detective Bosch: hey, was it a suicide after all?

Dispatches from the Land of Steady: November 10

Last day at the heavenly Lucky Bat Cafe, some 10 kilometers north of Darwin’s centre. Workday number 6 of 8 Darwin days, the other 2 brilliantly spent birding. I haven’t had long workdays here but after a slow start last week, they’ve developed into wonderful, intense, don’t-look-up drafting stints. Steady, steady, steady.

Last bow from George Smiley: Inspiration for every writer

Reading John le Carre invites one to write twisted, dark romps of spy thrillers. Plots worthy of any thriller hack but limned with virtuoso wordsmithing! I dashed through A Legacy of Spies, a final (I believe) le Carre trot through his world of Smiley. This may just end up as a sidelight to the author’s classics, but a complete pleasure nonetheless. By the way, George Smiley isn’t given a star role here but what we get is pitch-perfect. My recommendation? Grab, devour, and commence writing . . . you too have a Smiley within you.

Writing Big Year: Better in Darwin

Checking in. It’s the blessed Lucky Bat Cafe in Nightcliff. Darwin exudes heat (a water chiller!), though it’s not as life sapping as I found it during November and March visits. This time, somehow, my patina of perspiration relaxes and distances the world. My window seat chimes with cafe sounds and music and voices, yet silently nurtures a quiet pen at work. Outside: parked cars, a blue dog bowl of water, exotic palms low and tall, a blue sky whose blue isn’t like Melbourne at all.

Here I work swiftly, without hesitation. A cocoon timeless.