Virginia Woolf enjoyed making fun of Orlando not so much as a 400-year-old, perennially adolescent, egotistical hot tranny mess, but as a writer. Specifically, in words I'll remember when the Alzheimer's sends me to my non-driver's California ID when I'm asked for my name, she loved giving him/her shit for his/her struggles with "the cardinal labor of composition, which is excision." Orlando's poem only grew, and was never finished.
I am that rare individual, the happy writer, because I am doing very little excision these days. I'm mostly adding. The outline is now twenty pages; the notes are nearly 100. Because time is making its way through the hourglass of this residency with the force of a sandblaster, I have set myself some deadlines to start the much more difficult work of committing new sentences to the third draft, and then the principal labor, which is ripping them out. Today and tomorrow are my last days to go over the outline and the notes, trimming, expanding and organizing according to chronology and theme; Saturday I have social plans pretty much all day and it's my 4-days-deferred day off, but I will do one chore - print the notes, the outline and the relevant sections of the second draft (about 2/3 of it). The following day, Feb. 1, I will sit with my laptop in front of these three piles of paper and my task will actually be very simple: to make them disappear.
As the fourth week of my time here approaches, my discipline is slipping. I began with such beautiful rules - no reading, Net surfing or even thinking allowed during meals - just stare out the window and eat. No work allowed for more than 6 days in a row. Limit the writing to 90-minute sets - stay fresh. Yesterday I gobbled my dinner with three chat windows open, I completed my 8th consecutive day of work, and I looked up from the morning session to realize that two and a half hours had gone by. I'm sure I'll jinx myself by writing this and I'm sure I'll deserve the punishment, but I am just riveted by this process and by the ease with which it's unfolding. I've gotten a lot of shit from trusted mentors who have looked at my sprawling and promiscuous creative life of film, fiction, nonfiction and music, my overloaded class schedule, and said honey it's all very amusing but if you're going to have a career one of these days you're going to have to pick one of these things and focus on it. And I've always looked at their stellar exemplary careers and thought yes, that is right, I must do it, it is the principal labor of building my career, and I will do it, one of these days, after the film is through, after the novel - God make me focus, just not yet. The last three weeks, returning to the novel after it has sat in a cool cave while the film took over my life, I am reaping rewards for my procrastination, rewards I wouldn't even have known to want or ask for. Questions arise faster than I can write them down, multiple answers are suggesting themselves as I type the questions - and even as I write down the alternatives, the best way forward becomes apparent. The contrast between this voluptuous spring of ideas and the cracked earth that grudgingly yielded the first two and a half drafts of this novel shocks me. It makes me think I could never produce a novel in fewer than six years and two or three major creative distractions. It inflates my awe of the book-of-the-year club (Updike, Chabon, Oates). Perhaps if you do this enough, your product cures in weeks rather than months and years.
Metaphors compete for Feb. 1. It's either graduating from school and having to make a career, getting married after years of whoring around, or raising a 999-plant pot farm out of the earth and, what? Cutting it all down, trimming and curing it? Or smoking it all at once?
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