Right back to where we started from

IMG_0530 (1)Not exactly, but I’m working on a new book. These are words I did not think I would be saying anytime soon, but as the querying process for the other one got under way I had a mini existential crisis, à la “Now what? What if nothing comes of this? If I’m not working on it anymore, who am I?” and a friend who is a prolific songwriter (and very talented musician, I might add) said, “You set out to write a book  and you did. Great. Now write another one.”

And so I am. Writing another one, and it’s entirely different from the first (which is really the second but for these purposes we’ll call it the first). The book I’m writing now is sort of a comedy-noir, which are two of my favorite genres of film. The protagonist is male. It takes place roughly today. It has been such a very long time since I began the first book that I’ve forgotten what writing a first draft is like. It’s hard! But, as anyone who’s ever taken a class or tried to write a book or read a book about writing knows, you have to write what Anne Lamott calls “the shitty first draft” in order to get to the decent one. Or, as another talented writer friend says, “You write the first draft to figure out the story you want to tell.”

I think because the first book is a tough sell, I’m determined to write something more accessible and salable and this is making it difficult to really dive in. But that’s the only way to approach it, diving in, so enough with this procrastination. Right? Right.

I am returning to my beloved Nola in a couple of weeks and that town inspires me. This will be a combo writing retreat/holiday, as I will get to see some of my favorite people. What I need to do is get better at writing at home; what I want to do is travel the world and write elsewhere.

Much more to say but I’m tired. My sleep has gotten weird again but one interesting thing is that, in the month or so since I started New Book, I’ve dreamt about it several times. Dreamt about the characters, dreamt about the writing of it, dreamt it was a series. So it seems my subconscious wants me to work on this thang.

I’ve been reading a lot more lately, I’m happy to say. Fiction again—I took a long breather from it while I slogged through those last several rounds of First Book because I didn’t want to compare my writing to anyone else’s or be accidentally influenced. Right now I’m reading Zadie Smith’s “Swing Time”— my first time reading her though she’s been on my radar since “White Teeth.” I saw her speak at the Girls Write Now gala in the spring, and she was awesome and inspiring.

What are you reading?

Someone asked me recently if, where writing is concerned, I have a fear of success. I responded that I think what I have is an expectation of failure—which sounds much darker and more dramatic than the way in which I mean it. But she, an intuitive person, to say the least, suggested that it really is what she suspected, a fear of success. So this is something I have to think about, what that means and why I would have it.

The Jewish New Year is upon us; l’Shana Tova to all. My resolutions goals for the new year are many.

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Beautiful jewels of wisdom

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The title of this post comes from one of my favorite quotes:

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. 

That’s from the British philosopher and writer James Allen, and I came across it during one of the more challenging times in my life. This was before I started my meditation practice and so I did not yet know my capacity for true calm. I understand it a little better now, though like most things, it is a work in progress.

My (second) cousin asked me, and several other people, to write a letter to her daughter who recently graduated high school and is off to college. She asked me months ago and it took me a while to compose something in part because I don’t write quickly and I edit obsessively and in part because, as I said in the letter, I don’t feel terribly wise these days. However, I managed to cobble something together.

I think many of us have a lot more wisdom than we realize. That wisdom may lie beneath the surface, but when we need it, if we trust that it’s there, we can learn to access it. A large percentage of our problems stem from our getting in our own ways, and more often than not we know just what we need to do to fix certain aspects of our lives. Of course there will always be things over which we have no control, but I do believe that most of us have far more control than we allow ourselves to acknowledge. Because having control over things is scary. Because if we have the power to improve our lives, does this also mean that when things go wrong we have ourselves to blame?

No, it doesn’t. It means that many of our challenges are in our control, and to me this is comforting. Again, there will always be plenty of things over which we have no control. How refreshing, then, that what we can do is learn to change our behavior, and our responses to our often messy (and always valid) emotions. That is where that beautiful jewel of wisdom comes into play. One can’t cultivate it over night, but with practice and determination, one can develop it. And learning how to better respond to our negative emotions is the cornerstone of wisdom.

The day after I sent my cousin-letter I was talking to someone whom I know casually. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I’m in a creative rut.” He said, “Okay—so get out of it. Set small goals. That’s how you win.”

And so I did, I decided to start working on a new novel that has been marinating in this (occasionally calm) mind of mine for the past month or two. I am not abandoning the other one, I am just stepping away from it for a little while so that I can get back to it with a fresher perspective. I told myself I would just set out to write 500 words, and I did, and then I wrote 500 more the next day, and then I had more ideas so I jotted those down. I’m going to take a very different approach to this project then I did the last, going to make every effort to bang out what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft.” Perfectionism kills creativity. Or, to paraphrase a writer friend of mine, I’m going to write the first draft so that I can tell myself the story I want to write.

Will be spending the next week at the beach, thereby cramming an entire summer into seven days, and I hope to get more writing done there. I am also looking for some freelance work to support my book-writing habit; if you know of anyone or anything that needs writing, editing, copyediting, proofreading, and so on and so forth, please keep me in mind!

Namaste.

Sweet emotion

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Well hello, and Happy Father’s Day to all who identify as fathers.

I have been remiss in posting here, and a major part of that is that when I sit down at my computer to write I feel compelled to work on the novel … I am in the homestretch of this draft and really hope to finish it within the month, so that I can move on to the Herculean (but hopefully not Sisyphean) task of rewriting. Quite a process, this … and finishing this first draft will be a huge milestone and one that I feel might reverberate into other areas of my life. I have notes for the project all over this apartment, in notebooks, on index cards, on the backs of envelopes and scrawled on my whiteboard. Because my approach to getting through this draft, per my writing coach, is to just plow ahead and not worry about editing at all, I’ve amassed a sizable collection of thoughts and ideas to consider when I do begin the editing process. More clutter — not what I need — so maybe when it comes time to collect and consolidate my every fleeting notion, I will by extension organize my space a bit more.

But I digress, which I’ve been doing a lot of in trying to get through this draft. My writing group has been invaluable, as have the couple of writer friends I can bounce ideas off of … but ultimately, I alone must complete this process.

My downstairs neighbors are very unhappily married. I know this because, more mornings than not, I hear evidence. I hear the wife shrilly berating the husband through the vent in my bathroom, and sometimes I hear their toddler daughter crying in the background. Apparently I am not alone in registering this; my doormen call them with noise complaints on a regular basis. It doesn’t seem to be working.

This morning, Father’s Day, I heard her shrieking over and over and over, “Nobody likes you! Nobody likes you! Not one person!”

My doorman told me that he’s heard through the grapevine that she threatens that if he tries to leave her, she’ll take his money and his kid and he’ll “be miserable”.

It is very difficult to listen to this on a regular basis. It is stressful. I feel sorry for all parties involved — the husband and kid, obviously, but also the woman, who is clearly not a balanced person and who seems to have no regard for the potential psychological damage she’s inflicting on her daughter. No regard for the fact that the daughter might well grow up with a false sense of what households sound like, of the dynamic to expect and accept in a relationship, and of how to express herself when she’s upset. Of course, damage is not a foregone conclusion, so hopefully she’ll be one of the lucky ones and rise above it all.

They’re moving to San Francisco at the end of the summer; maybe my new neighbors will get along famously.

Today in the Styles section of the Times is an article about ghostwriting services for people who need to deliver toasts and speeches at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and so on and so forth. I’d be good at this. I’ve delivered a few wedding toasts in my day and they’ve gone over well. I’ve also ghostwritten personal documents for friends — breakup and makeup notes, sorry-you’re-offended-but-this-is-how-I-feel emails, I-know-it’s-over-but-I-want-to-leave-things-on-a-positive-note missives. I’m pretty good at putting feelings into words and at distilling the truth from a multitude of messy thoughts. So why am I having such a hard time with the emotional aspects of the characters in my book? Maybe because a novel is antithetical to the distillation process. Finding new and compelling ways to describe hope and fear, the two dominant emotions in my book, is tough.

Now I’m not sure whether “hope” and “fear” qualify as emotions. Which gives me something else to Google while neglecting Chapter 19 of draft one of the as-yet-untitled project.

Chapter 19 is a biggie — it’s where the reveal happens. One of them. It also takes place not-in-New York, unlike the rest of the book. When I was doubting my progress to a friend today, he made a comment about how I’ve already written 18 chapters that take place in New York … I guess that’s something.

I went to theater a couple weeks ago to see Dr. Faustus at Classic Stage Company. There was a party after with the cast and theater staff, and I met the artistic director, who is a lovely man. He asked what I do and I mentioned The Novel and he said something to the effect of, “That’s impressive — it must be really difficult work,” to which I replied something to the effect of, “You run this theater company — that’s difficult, impressive work!” and he said “Yes, but everything I do is a collaborative effort. I rely on the input of a lot of other people. Writing a novel is such an insular process.” I really appreciated this because he’s absolutely right, and that’s one of the most challenging aspects of it for someone like me, who would much rather spend time with others than alone. So that’s where the writing groups and the coach and the friends I can bounce ideas of of and even this blahhhhg are helpful — I’m accountable to people for this. I’ve voiced my intention to complete this draft and so I must. I will.

Recently over dinner, a friend paid me one of the dearest compliments I’ve received. He said, “You’re one of the few people who, when I spend time with you, I don’t feel like I’m alone.”

That is one of my missions in life, to make others feel less alone. My other mission is to write.

Back to Novel. Until soon.