Monday, July 16, 2007

Writing block party.

First of all, I want to thank every single one of you who wrote in with congratulations. Really, it was the loveliest surprise, and your good wishes have been much of the motivation I’ve had towards setting up a writing schedule. During the past week whenever I would think “Yeah, I’ll start writing when Daughter goes back to school in September, or possibly some time after that…”, I’d see all of you cheering me on, encouraging me to get started. Actually, in my mind, you were all wearing cheerleading outfits and, frankly, some were better served by this outfit than others, but your flippy skirts and waving pom-poms did their duty. I created a writing schedule; I have ninety-thousand words to write. Ergo, I will write a thousand words a day for ninety days.

I didn’t say it was a complicated schedule.

And when a person signs on for writing a thousand words a day, I think we all know what happens. That’s right; the closets get incredibly organized. I’d like to thank you all and the nice people at Hyperion for giving me the incentive to view closet-organization as the lesser of two evils. When a person such as me is not writing or, as I like to call it, “Working on ideas in my head”, a person will happily determine which of the countless pairs of khaki socks Consort has is no longer suitable for public viewing. After writing 250 words, I would gleefully take a break by filleting out which of my workout t-shirts had degenerated from “Acceptable for sweating” into “Pitiful and having created its own mutant mold strain”.

Yesterday, having stapled myself to the computer chair and telling all the family members to shun me if I walked out of the office, I vowed to finish my daily 1000 words. This lasted until word 750, by which point I was making small mannequins out of paper clips. Having noted the only words left in my head were obscenities and someone muttering darkly “You can’t make me…”, I deemed it break-time. I dashed from the room and threw myself into Daughter’s room. She was lying on the bed, reading. Under her body was the folded pile of clean clothing I had asked her to put away two days before. I took in a deep breath, preparing for a wind-storm of nagging, when I noticed one of the t-shirts was, while clean, stained. The breath which had been allocated for nagging was exhaled while I grinned. I had a project.

We would clean out Daughter’s clothing.

First, all obviously stained clothing would go. This worked until I remembered she is my child, and we’re still surprised about gravity; we eat food, we drop food, we eat some more. If I used the “Obvious stain” rule as a cut-off, Daughter would have a bathing suit and her Sunday dress. Wait, let me check that. Correction; Daughter would have shoes. I amended the rule to “…obvious stains which bother me.”

The next category to go was “Life is too short”. Over the years, we have benefited from several friends who have older children and limited closet space. Daughter has received hand-me-downs which were all but unworn, leaving me with extra discretionary income to spend on things like children’s pastry-making classes, the Captain Underpants oeuvre, and Shout stain-remover. Some of this clothing has been hugely successful, some has not. Oddly enough the European hand-me-downs -- all insanely cute, exquisitely-made and pristine – never went on Daughter without a fight. Now, staring into the crammed abyss which is her closet, I made the decision to stop trying to make Daughter the cover girl for Vogue Bambini. Out went the slim-legged jeans (“I can’t play basketball in them”), the colorful jumpers (“They itch.”), the frocks with the enigmatic non-English sayings on them (“No.”). I held up one especially adorable dress, sighed and said to Daughter, “Not even once…?”

Daughter, having been given the task of matching her socks, looked up and shook her head definitively.

“Heathen”, I said without rancor and plunged back in. Having removed that which was obvious, and having no interest in finishing my writing, I chose to attack the last and more challenging category. We’ll call it “Yes…no…I don’t…help!”.

I am pleased beyond measure to note Daughter doesn’t resemble me at all. It’s really fabulous how little of me is in there. One of the ways she is not-me is how leggy she is. Since my legs begin at my knees, sometimes I just stand there and marvel at my daughter. What this means, however, is I have a much harder time determining when she has grown out of something. The skort will continue to snap around her waist easily, but just keep moving steadily up her legs. One day, without either one of us noticing, the skort becomes too short, but usually stays in the closet for another month after that, because I don’t notice it’s too short until she’s getting out of the car at school. By the time she comes home and puts it in the hamper, I forget it’s too short until the next time she wears it. This last exercise was to determine which items were still cute and appropriate, and which ones were suitable for her audition for the remake of “Taxi Driver”.

Since the only way to see was to have Daughter try all skorts on, I relieved her of sock-matching duty and impressed her into the skort army. She’d try one on; I’d make her turn around, and then turn the other way. I’d have her try shirts of different lengths on top. I’d have her do simple stretching exercises, and then sprint around the room. What seemed to Daughter to be Mommy showing an out-of-character willingness to play dress-up was rapidly becoming P.E. with multiple wardrobe changes. She darted out her door.

“Where are you going?” I called as I pulled out a box labeled “Winter clothes and knives”.

“Bathroom”, she answered.

Minutes later, she was back. With her was Consort, who was gaping at the piles of Daughter’s clothing mounded throughout her room. He said to me, “I thought you were writing.”
“I am!” I chirped, upending a box of wool sweaters on her bed. “I’m just taking a break.”
Daughter and Consort exchanged a look. I can only assume my delicate state had been discussed in the other room. Consort took the box, still filled with mittens, scarves and a set of serrated knives, and put it on the ground. He then put a hand on each of my shoulders and steered me towards the office.

“Write now,” he said firmly, just before he shut the door, leaving me alone with the computer, “Right now”.

The door clicked shut and I pouted. I didn’t like this at all. Having written is fun. Writing is like removing an African Guinea worm.

(Note to readers: This following fact is fascinating to me, and I think describes the artistic process perfectly, but I have been told it is disgusting. Be warned.)

The Guinea worm is a threadlike parasitic worm that grows and matures in people. Worms grow up to 3 feet long and are as wide as a paper clip wire. The only treatment is to remove the worm over many weeks by winding it around a small stick and pulling it out a tiny bit at a time. Sometimes the worm can be pulled out completely within a few days, but the process usually takes weeks or months.

Writing is like that. And now I had nothing to do but take out the old stick and start winding. I looked around the office. Same business-school books, same piles of unknown computer wires, same innumerable heaps of notes, messages and doodles; I looked again and had a flash of joy. Not a single object in there had been organized!

I wanted to write, I really did, but who could expect me to work within such a chaotic environment? There was only one thing I could do. Breathing a sigh of relief, I dumped a basket of random phone messages on the floor.


Blogger Jennifer (Jen on the Edge) said...

So I have a doppelganger in California? Crazy, this world.

Whenever I have to write for work or even just work on some boring mundane task, my office suddenly becomes too cluttered for me to think and then I have to tidy and organized. Why is this, I wonder.

Good luck with the writing thing. Hopefully you'll find a point soon when the words are just falling from your brain to your computer and you hit the 90K mark soon enough.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quinn, I'm right there with you (including the odd fascination with the Guinea worm). I'm in the midst of writing my Masters thesis, a collection of creative essays that are about cooking utensils and vessels (I swear it's more entertaining than in sounds) and boy oh boy, is my apartment clean.

Whenever I get stuck, I go back to a quote I read by Madeleine L'Engle once, which said something to the effect of "I've found that inspiration tends to come during working, rather than before." It gets me refocused and takes me back to the computer, even if all I do is type nonsense for a while.

3:24 PM  
Blogger LJ said...

I guess if I have to, I have to... :pulls out the dusty crumpled pom poms: Sis Bam Bee Kick'em in the word processoreeee!?! Hey I never said I was any good at it!
L (who is currently not painting the accent color on the north wall of the family room and in the two alcoves because she is busy posting on Quinn's blog)

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Joining L with the pom poms. Mine are red and white.)


You can do it
If you put your mind to it.
If you put your mind to it,
You can do it, do it, do it

Of course, this cheer has morphed since my high school days. Over years of encouraging my kids, it's been reduced to a single word that rhymes with "quoit": Doit, doit, doit!

4:02 PM  
Blogger guerrilla girl said...

I was out of town last week in the Internetless hinterlands, and was so excited to think I'd have TWO of your posts to catch up I'm sorry I'm late to the party, but this is fantastic news! Congratulations on your book contract and uh, house is never so clean as when I am required to write something.

10:05 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

Oh, the memories of the organizing and the cleaning and the general ability to find Other Things To Do while I was in law school. I had forgotten why things were so clean around here during that time in my life. I always thought it was the children that ruined it for me...

I know you warned us about the worm, but I wish I hadn't read it. It IS bedtime afterall, and I've a feeling the dreamworld will not be pleasant tonight!

10:06 PM  
Blogger Shirley said...

I'm a very good procrastinator (though it doesn't make my home any cleaner) and I always have been. The funny thing is that my 17 year old only heard me use the word for the first time a few weeks ago and asked me what it meant. I guess it isn't a word they study in English.

7:23 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

You're not alone! Every writer goes through this. I remember the one episode I ever saw of that Dave Barry sitcom that was on tv awhile back was about him cleaning to avoid writers' block. Something about knowing that was rather comforting to me.

FWIW, Here are things that have worked for me:

1) break it into very small pieces. It is more likely that I will continue writing past my allotted time or word goal if I keep it small so that momentum propels me past the goal. Otherwise my brain keeps counting words & it makes it excruciating.

2) pick your time of day. Hemingway did all his writing in 2 hours first thing every morning. He was then free to do whatever with his day (unfortunately it was mostly drinking and hunting, but I'm pretty sure that's not necessary). I do mine after my daughter goes to bed because sometimes when the choice is between writing and bed, I'll choose writing.

3) don't get all goal oriented - it sucks all the joy & creativity out of it. Write for fun just like you always have. Remember, you have to go out and live your life in order to have subject matter.

4) Read something by someone whose style you like. I don't know about you, but it gets my inner voice primed.

5) remember that goals are goals, not deadlines. They are there to guide you, not flog you. Deadlines can also be helpful, though. Most of my best writing has happened between 11pm-2am the night before it's due to the editor. I'm not sure how you'd set an artificial deadline that would produce the same sort of pressure, though.

6) start typing. anything. even if it's just "I hate this" 60,000 times. Type stream of consciousness, type about going grocery shopping. At some point in all this uselessness, your brain will give up and do something productive out of sheer boredom.

Good luck, and enjoy your newly organized world!

7:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I admire your goal setting objectives, a note of caution: if all that the stick-winding procedure is pulling out is "All work and no play makes Quinn a dull girl" 100 times, seek help.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

I'm packing to move.

All I want to do is write.

Thoughts of pure genious are bouncing around in my head. Turns of phrases never written skip by, blowing kisses and waving.

And I, I put tent pegs into a box marked 'tent pegs' knowing full well that never intend to camp in a tent again.

6:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK First off I'm with Maya and thanks for that Maya because it can be used in so many different experiences in life my 2 cents added on is to simply enjoy writing your book. You dont get asked every day to do something that really is an honor and quite flattering so sit back and just have fun and enjoy the process. Your readers will thank you for it too when we (they) read the product. If all of this fails my basement is a mess so feel free!

8:01 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

It's helpful to know - and amazing that I had no idea - that other people will clean because it's less undesirable than some other task at hand. As a teacher, my place is never as clean as when I have papers to grade.

Congratulations on the book! I always find it hard to believe when actors, singers or writers have stories about how they were discovered out of the blue. But I actually believe you. And it couldnt have happened to a more deserving writer!

12:53 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

Dear Stitchy Fingers...
I'm sure they'll study the word in English...they just haven't gotten around to it!

(sorry, couldn't resist)

9:13 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I am the QUEEN of procrastination and writing to deadline... so, I can relate.

Still, filing is usually only attended to... um... almost never. I will usually write before filing.

So, after you finish with Jeff's basement, you can always come up here and organize my files for me. I want to pitch in any way I can!!

(Go, Quinn, Go!! RAH!)

11:29 PM  
Blogger torontopearl said...

Quinn, I just happened to come across this quote by comedian Steven Wright, and thought of you:

“I am writing a book. So far I have the pages numbered.”

7:58 AM  

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