climbing out of a black hole, or "why i don't have anything better to do at 11:00 on a Saturday night"

(Longest blogpost title EVER.)

I told myself I would hibernate in the office the whole weekend to try and get lots of writing done, seeing as this paper needs to be finished in less than ten days. So far that plan hasn't worked so well, for the following reasons.

1. It was almost ninety degrees here today and the office is stifling. This makes working on my paper even less appealing than usual.

2. I seem to be totally unable to break my regular Saturday routine for anything. Between our weekly outing for breakfast at Lazy Jane's (yes, this is totally necessary - if you tried their scones, you'd understand), grocery shopping at the co-op, buying as much fresh produce as I can carry at the farmers' market, going swimming, and oh yeah eating meals, there just wasn't any time left to sit down and write until after Daniel was in bed. I probably should have skipped all that other stuff, but somehow I just can't.

3. I have one more recording session tomorrow night (it's part of the dissertation, actually), which means I've been putting in a lot of time with the singer, including a one-hour rehearsal this afternoon, and of course I was practicing madly for an hour before she came over because I never feel like I know the music quite as well as I should.

4. I have to pee every 10 minutes. That's just what happens when you crave ice chips all day long and your unborn child insists on kicking you in the bladder every time you sit down. (This is especially inconvenient at night.) Hence, sitting still and concentrating for long periods of time is nearly impossible.

Despite all these distractions, I managed to write a few more pages tonight. The pressure of a deadline will do that.

What has helped me the most, though, is re-reading the chapter entitled "shitty first drafts" in Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird. It's amazingly liberating. The idea is this: for that first draft, just write. Sometimes that means you're basically typing nonsense. Don't worry about how bad it is. In fact, it WILL be bad. It will probably be awful (hence the appropriately vulgar descriptor). But it doesn't matter how shitty that first draft is, because no one else will read it. The point is to get your ideas out of your head and onto paper. Brilliant sentence structure, meticulous organization, and a stunning vocabulary can all come later.

This idea is working for me. The first 15 pages of my draft I re-worked and revised and already sent to a few people on my committee for feedback. They are probably not going to give me any feedback because they are so busy, but I also sent that first chunk to Steph, who will give me feedback because she knows I need it. The next 25 pages, or whatever I've got by now, is an unholy mess. It's an unorganized mish-mash of really terrible sentences, partial paragraphs, ideas in bold font that aren't even full sentences, and random quotes from various sources. But hidden in that glob of prose and fragments that I dumped out of my head and into a Word file are some good ideas and maybe even a few salvageable phrases or even paragraphs, and it's much easier to work with that than with nothing.

And that's how I'm climbing out of the black hole. I set a goal every day: tonight I'm just going to write about XYZ and not think about the rest. I'm getting thoughts and ideas onto (virtual) paper, and I'm not worrying about how bad it looks now because I know I can come back and fix it up, culling the bad parts, re-writing the good parts, and making sure everything in between makes sense. It's all much less overwhelming that way.


ann said…
Yay!!!!!!! I think that's the most awesome news I've heard in a long time! I'm very proud of you.

Hey, don't forget to back up your virtual writing! Since you've got gmail, you can email it to yourself--every time you update, just reply to that email (without changing the subject line, or it'll make it a new file), and it'll save all the drafts in one file. I do that when I'm working on a project for my school, because it stays in one place and I can see my earlier drafts if I decide I want to go back ot one of my earlier ideas. Or you could try google docs, but I haven't used those yet. I watched a presentation on the web on how to use them, adn the look pretty simple and useful (and you can allow your committee to see them and they can put their feedback in, without having to email it to them each time you update it). Anyway, don't let a computer crash lose it all!
Pam said…
Yay, Suze!! I *love* that Anne Lamott book. I think it's the only book of hers I've read, which makes me think I should check out some of the others. I also love the chapter titled *Perfectionism* or something along those lines. Good luck!! :-)
Thorny said…
Good luck! Keep up the good work!

I too love Anne Lamott, though I have yet to read "Bird by Bird." I need to do that, I think.
Yay! Glad to hear you're making some progress!

And I, too, feel I need to read that book. I've read lots of her other stuff. Maybe I should put that book on my Amazon wishlist...

Big hugs and lots of encouragement!
Suze said…
yes yes yes, you should ALL read that book, whether you are a writer or not!!
Animal said…
I'm glad you're finding success with that "write a shitty first draft" scenario. I deal with this issue in composition a LOT...students who think that they need to write the finished product on the first try, and then wonder why they never get anywhere. The important thing is to WRITE. I recommend "The War of Art" as a good motiviating book, and I'm looking forward to perhaps adding the Lamott book to the biblio of my standard composer presentation.

Oh, and BTW: you shouldn't change your life-affirming Saturday schedule for anything short of childbirth. ;-)
Andre said…
Rock on, Suze! Bird by Bird was required reading for all incoming frosh this year at my college. . So I had to read it and teach with it. . If it does half the good for any of my students that it did for me, I'll be happy.

continued strength and encouragement!

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