Quietens the raging beast, steady work does. I’m taking great care with a book’s chapter, making sure all the technical bits are clean. Soon I’ll be able to do the permissioning (make sure I can reproduce copyrighted quotes, etc.) and photos (where on earth do I get them from?). I could do this kind of work for hours. Hey, I just did.
In 2017, I ran a Rock Music Big Year, in which I listened to an album every day. Every day. The idea was to rekindle the passion for music I’d had for four decades since my early teens. Did that big year work? In a sense, yes: I felt an enormous surge of “rock music luurv” over the year. But in a sense, no: I listen these days but only sporadically.
Well, the other day, I took my grandson on a long train trip and then a walk, through rain, to a lovely café called Coffee Head. We had our usual, a bit to eat plus coffee. When I stood up to place him in his pusher, I glanced at the poster on the wall and was flabbergasted. It’s a gig poster, for Guided By Voices, one of my faves, at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. I don’t know the year – Googling suggests it could have been last year or as long ago as 1995. But the point is this … I experienced a surge of melancholy. Why isn’t that rushing joy, the pleasure of songs and guitars and mayhem, still in my head? Is it old age? Have I lost my soul?
Now I ponder: should I have another go? Should I really push the envelope and commit to an avalanche of new and old music every day, all around me? Can old passions be rekindled?
After a week of solitary desk and café work, sometimes highly productive, sometimes meandering, I’m beginning to gain perspective and strength. A routine of routine work delivers routine results, it seems to me. What I can now see is that over the last few months, taking on new, exciting projects has dumped on my shoulders a ton of preparatory “get to know the subject” research that I’m only now clearing. More to the point, some of the research/reading on these new frontiers is done and dusted, some of it can take its own sweet time to be explored, and some of it isn’t all that pertinent in any case. Suddenly I’m shedding tasks and getting back onto an even keel.
I need to work on the nuclear book (see my Nuclear Power History blog and note how sparse it’s been lately, a state I’ll correct this upcoming week). Beyond that, I need to promote the mystery novels and pick at more work on them. I need to do ongoing research into and preparation for my 15 Cranes project (see my 15 Cranes blog). I need to steadily review for my Read Listen Watch review site. I need to prepare my Extinction Rebellion arrest case. Of all these tasks, the first should take nearly three quarters of my time; lately, that’s been only a quarter or sometimes less.
The more I can just work in quiet, with anticipated interruptions, with a steady heart, the better off I’ll be. Bring on the routine.
Here I am, mortal and confused. Working so hard but blurry of focus. I don’t need you to tell me this is not a recipe for success.
But what of my 2019 Author Big Year? It’s actually 13 months because I launched it on December 1 of last year, and as of today, it’s been sitting in the middle of my brain each and every day of 330 days. That’s five-sixths of my “year” done. Have I delivered what I promised, which was 6½ hours of writing (4½ hours of which was meant to be “focused” on the big reactor book)? My daily record shows 5¾ hours at desk or in café or in transit, which isn’t too bad, but the “focused” writing has only been 3 hours a day. In other words, the Author Big Year is doing its job, motivating commitment, but not necessarily on the right projects. I’m not surprised – I’ve launched a number of “nifty new projects” and they’ve jostled for space in my head and heart.
Over the remaining sixth of my Author Big Year, I can’t claw back the undelivered portion of my initial commitment. But I can do better. Tomorrow I start doing better. Tomorrow I’m better.
James Sallis when teaching writing: “I urge students to have something on that first page, first paragraph that has the sense of the writer leaning forward and saying: ‘I have something important to tell you.'” (Photo and quote from Jonathan Bond’s fine Phoenix New Times article.)
I’m writing this today but in relation to last Friday. For two weeks, for better or worse, my Author Big Year disciplines have been set aside. Deciding to be arrested and then being arrested …. well, those steps have turned my writing life upside down, at least for a (hopefully) short period. I’ve been writing heaps but all on Extinction Rebellion and acting towards climate change action, and all that writing has been for my private use (no one needs to hear banal tales of nervousness and then tense mayhem). I’ve also continued on with the daily Wings Big Year activities, the simple one of educating myself about birds and their migrations and natures. Beyond that, I’ve continued to review for Read Listen Watch and I’ve managed a post or two of interesting history on Nuclear Power History. But as far as progressing the nuclear book (or, perhaps as importantly, moving with Gentle and Tusk), it’s been a tough period.
Since Friday I’ve come up for joyous times in Darwin but as ever, I’ve been selfish and holed up in local cafes to continue thinking and reading. Today I’ve made a move back into the history of Germany’s start of nuclear power in the second half of the 1950s. It’s felt powerful, as powerful in some ways as being handcuffed and shoved into a police van. More power to the writing, eh!
Only 4-5 hours of daily work lately but I find it impossible to castigate myself. I’m moving into the realm of civil disobedience, in a most scared and crabwise fashion, and there’s plenty else going on around us. I hope to settle into a better routine, focused on the big nuclear book (not the other strands of work I’ve taken on) by the start of next week.
Mind swirls: Thunberg, Cornell re birds, impending births, a feast/explosion of books to read and films/shows to watch, that rally, the lure of the wild, nuclear in 2019 Australia, illness/mortality, sore heel, chocolate … not good for today’s writing work. But the previous three days were great, and tomorrow in Sydney will be okay and after that … let’s leave after that until after that. Onwards.
The last ten days have been a mix of exhilaration (“I’m into the book, it’s coming”), despair (“so many interruptions, even if joyful ones, such a slow crawl”), self-disgust (“why can’t I settle a fully energized routine”), and self-pride (“I’m balancing the balls quite well”). This afternoon I’ll attend the Climate Strike rally in Melbourne central and that’s thrilling (if also, of course, existentially dread-inducing) because so many of my writing projects intersect at it. The morning, in the meantime, is productive. Good.
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.