After 286 days of my Author Big Year (which is 13 months long and I’m now 9 months-plus into that), which is meant to be all about sustained daily writing focus, let me report. I’m aiming for daily writing work of 6½ hours and right now I’m tracking at 6 hours/day. Good enough, good enough (especially in a busy year of life). I’m not working enough on proper drafting but let me fix that from now on. Nothing is clear to me today but give me a week and I’ll see the way.
Plenty to do and plenty gets done but still not working properly on what I should be. I’ve been max’ing out on Finders Keepers Café, gnawing away at blogs, research, plans, self-education, reviews, and also some Europe tidy-ups. Plus, at last, some new drafting. I expect tomorrow to be a strong day.
August was spent part working, part living in four different cities/towns in Europe, specifically the Netherlands, Bruges, and Germany. The idea was to holistically redraft as much of the nuclear book as possible, based on how much has been first/second-drafted to date.
How did I do? In theory, escaping the ordinary impositions of life should have seen some 200 hours of writing work but I decided early that with all the moving from town to town, and the lure of summer, that I’d aim for 150 hours. In the event I achieved 133 hours. The first two weeks were quite a bit more productive than the second two. Would I have achieved more at home? Not necessarily. Certainly I wouldn’t have hunkered down and done such meaningful redrafting. Overall, I’m satisfied. And another intangible is a huge sense of relief and change.
But the transition back to Melbourne has left me floundering, unable to see through the dense foliage, the bark. The shock of Melbourne early spring, which is almost Melbourne winter, after European summer, is part of it. Also, working away from my desk means there’s heaps of tidying up to do back here. Today, a few days since the return, I’m still not back to square one. But I’ll get there, I’ll get there.
Day 268, moving to village Cochem tomorrow for the last away-from-it-all redrafting week. Predictably, I’m panicking. Progress has been good but not good enough, and now I’m buried deep, deep, deep, in a chapter that has all the makings of a masterpiece (so says I) but teeters on the edge of chaos. From this chaos shall order emerge. But when? What happens if it takes too long? What if our return to springtime Melbourne has me still redrafting, as is likely? What should I do then? Panic.
Halfway through Week 3, done with Amsterdam and Nijmegen, in Bruges I’ve found the perfect bolt hole, a little bar/cafe called Huis de Cluuse. Cool French-tinged music, only occasional deadshit tourists, locals propping up the bar, Belgium’s summer sun through my window, left alone by the cool bartender/barista … of course I’m working well. It’s 4:30 PM and I’ll gun the work for another hour or so. Oh, if only every day could be spent away from everyone else’s everyday!
Do you enjoy transitions in your life? Do you feel their heft, resist them, then embrace?
At the start of this week, my last night in Amsterdam brought hours of fidgety insomnia. I couldn’t understand why, for I’d slept so well the other Amsterdam nights, as if rescued from normal pressures by escaping. I recalled Marina Benjamin, author of Insomnia, a book that has affected me greatly, talking in a book reading about turning the usual view of insomnia as a vile absence into something of a presence, a time for “interrogating and exploring.” So I did my best to just tolerate the fidgetiness and in the morning we shifted towns and I hung on and then, knowing a change was needed, in new cafe, a new town, new air, new light, new mind … I got really cracking on what I’m meant to do here. I have changed.
I can do it. I can do it.
When did you last feel like throwing a glass of wine across the room, so intense was your welling irritation that something was amiss? You keep staring at a problem or an issue or an article or something you’ve made. You fidget and suppress a groan. This is physical! You hate yourself and once you cure yourself of that self-hatred, you certainly despise the original issue, this … this … thing that hurts so much.
I’m in a faraway Dutch cafe and I’m reading, for the nth time, a chapter draft. It reads quite well. It tells the story. It seems to choreograph this and that event, this and that character. Nothing seems completely shitty. Yet something is wrong, a key feature is awry. This chapter lacks the life you felt in the previous chapter. It’s drizzling outside and soon you’ll leave work (it’s your birthday, after all) to spend a pleasant afternoon in an unusual museum, in strolling, in cooking, in reading. But that bloody chapter!
Well, I’m here to tell you now (those seven words actually echo an old CCR song!) that what I’m going through is positive not negative. That’s how the brain assimilates new comprehension: it has figured out a new connection is needed but the conscious brain veneer hasn’t caught up yet. This is positive not negative.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself…
This month of redrafting is weird. Waves of debilitating panic wash over me. I think, frick me, why did I ever begin this, will I ever finish, isn’t every thought and word garbage?
But I’ve been here before. The only way forward is the next small step. Do something and progress is there. “And the world is not what it seems to poor blind birds,” sing The Felice Brothers on the wonderful real-poetry folk savagery of new album Undress, the sound fills earbuds while around me the hubbub of Cafe Fika burbles. A waitress glances at me waving my arms in mime, she smiles. I smile. I can do this.
All good times come to an end and I lazed around a bit during my last two days in Amsterdam, and today’s easy 100 kilometer train ride southeast to Nijmegen nonetheless chewed up time, and I felt myself growing impatient, and the impatience grew, and this university town didn’t at first feel at home like Amsterdam did, and …. you get the picture. Well, Cafe Fika, a sprawling cafe edging towards a proper eatery, might not be like the magical Cafe Koosje, with its half-seedy bar patina, but as soon as I sat down here, my shoulder knots dissolved. I’m drafting and redrafting. All wounds are salved.