Steven Pressfield writes terrific fiction but is perhaps more famous, at least among creatives, for his works on how to write and make and dream. In a recent blog post that is grandiosely (and wonderfully, in my view) titled “The Gods Rule by Acclaim,” Pressfield concludes with these four magnificent exhortations, which I set out here with my self-feedback about my decades-plus book on reactors:
Start before you’re ready (I did)
Write what you don’t know (I did and continue to do so)
Pick the idea that’s the craziest (Certainly, after more than a decade of work, I can admit that’s true)
Write the book you can’t write (Ha! I cannot, I cannot!)
I take courage from Pressfield’s foolish advice. WRITE IT I SHALL!!
2019 started early, in December last year, so I’ve just completed six months. Did I knuckle down to 6½ hours of writing work a day, as the Author Big Year bound me to? Not quite – I’m averaging 6 hours a day. I’m satisfied enough.
Of the hours at desk, did I stick to 4½ a day on proper drafting rather than research, book production or marketing? No – 3 hours/day is all I could manage. This aspect I’m not satisfied with.
I shall double down on “proper” work from tomorrow.
Would you ever countenance reading a whole book just to absorb a certain way of writing? Normally it would never occur to me but “Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century,” by George Packer, a New Yorker writer I admire, was described as stylistically bold and I grew intrigued. Holbrooke, an “almost famous” apparatchik and diplomat, was known to me but only peripherally. He was instrumental in ensuring that the post-Soviet-Union non-Russia countries with nuclear arms got rid of them, and I’d read about him, but the nuclear arms race is not on-topic. In the end I gambled and bought.
Well, after an introductory chapter that reads like Packer is chatting to me over the phone, something that’s unusual enough and takes a lot of skill, here is his introductory sentence to the first real bio chapter, the one about Holbrooke’s “early years”:
Do you mind if we hurry through the early years? There are no mysteries here that can be unlocked by nursery school. Why Holbrooke was Holbrooke is not even the question to which we need an answer. I wonder if there’s an answer for anyone, least of all him. You really need to know just one thing, and it has to do with Holbrooke’s father.
Can you credit the author’s chutzpah? You’re writing a bio and you tell the reader you’ll skip the early bits? Needless to say, I’m delighted and can’t wait to read the rest.
A brief locale shift to Darwin could be a holiday but isn’t at all. Instead it’s much better (or will be, if I can continue to accept the generosity of others letting me be a preoccupied antisocial geek). In Melbourne a day ago, I was still mired deep in the early to mid 50s, with plenty of drafting to go, but coming up here, I’ve decided against bringing all the stuff and angst involved with that era, and instead shall just scope out the final three years of the decade (actually 1958 to 1960). I don’t need much check-in luggage to cart up my accumulated notes on those three years, already marked up with my thoughts and observations. Now I’ll work through those marked-up notes, trying to find “the story” they tell and paving the way for an intelligent plot framework. I kind of have a rough idea of what I want to relate about during this seminal period as the world moves into the turbulent 60s, but past experience tells me those vague initial thoughts might flex and transform. In any case, it’s hard to convey my excitement as I begin work at the comfy, atmospheric Laneway Cafe.
Now that the two crime fiction books are on the Amazon shelves, I can stop obsessing about them. I can work on the nuclear tome. The last twenty-five May days have been wonderfully steady, days in a routine, days not travelling, days doing not much except the work towards the future. I’ve averaged seven hours a day, not quite the targeted eight, but I can’t be cross with myself. Within those seven hours, not enough have involved drafting new words, but that’s improving right now. The last few days, such glorious late autumn Melbourne days, have been magnificent days of wordsmithing.
Life never stays still. Mine swirls. I have my second book coming out next Thursday, I’m obsessively losing weight (more on that another time) after dropping the ball for three quarters of a year, grandparenting is more time intensive than I’d forecast, etc., etc.
But over the last ten days, I’ve kept at it, clocking up 6 hours/day on average, only slightly down from the target 6 ½, although I should be closer to 7 hours/day because this period has been mostly uninterrupted. I’d like to have spent an hour per day more on drafting than I have, but I’m not unhappy.
That said, the next three weeks are crucial. Quiet, steady work, prioritised optimally, that’s the aim.
I first came across COPACETIC in one of James Lee Burke’s florid, brilliantly written Robicheaux series. The hero’s sidekick, out-of-control Clete Purcel, uttered the words in casual conversation and I had to scramble to my dictionary. The word means “very good or going very well” and it’s a dialogue word, not an in-text word.
It turned out James Lee Burke would trot out this word too often for my liking and in recent years I’ve dropped his books. But Nadia, the hero of the brilliant “Russian Doll” Netflix series (I’ve reviewed Episode 1, with the other episodes’ reviews out soon), uses the word, much to my pleasure. But here’s the amazing thing. Nadia’s utterance was the first time I ever heard “copacetic” spoken. I’d assumed it’s pronounced “coppa-ketic,” which has a nice ring to it. No, not at all! Nadia pronounces it “coppa-setic.”
Isn’t language wonderful?
I’ve been noodling away at the subject matter for this Big Year, namely what is birding and why do I care and what might I need to know in order to write about it. But my internal debate has stultified. Yesterday, in Docklands of all places, I spied some Little Corellas, waddling on grass, with other species, pecking away, and I stopped to admire their handsome features and purposefulness. I realized this project needs a restart. I’ll go back to square one: much has changed in my life recently, is birding still so important?
Last Thursday I wrote: I’m still trying to shed a five-week-old, minor, yet annoying, cold, so I rose an hour late. First-thing tasks meant I got to my Finders Keepers table as late as 10 AM but then I settled in, better than I have for ages. What’s changed? Well, for one thing, the next five weeks are quiet ones at home. For another, some of the acute mental anxiety over the plots of a couple of chapters seems to have abated, seemingly subconsciously. And soon Gentle & Tusk #2 will be out in the world and I can stop fretting over that. In any case, I worked really well for four hours on Chapter 11, the economics story. 673 words, rather pleasing. Eight hours in all. Good.
Not good. No need to talk about it. Forget, okay?
(But I’ll reset over the next few days.)
Photo by Louis from Pexels