It kills me that the next round of Marvel movies have all been pushed back, for the trifling reason that people can’t go to movie theatres.* How am I supposed to wait two more years for another “Doctor Strange” movie? And the “Black Panther” sequel? Not to mention finding out how Natalie Portman can possibly be Thor. Sigh.
*Sarcasm, I promise. We’re taking the pandemic very seriously.
I’ve begun to make progress again toward the third draft of my novel. Oh, haven’t I mentioned that I’m writing my first novel? The seed of the idea first came to me when I was seventeen, and I wrote fragments and thought about it in off-moments for YEARS, and completely re-invented the whole framework about three times, and then in 2014 I finally sat down to write a complete first draft. It took a year.
And then it took another four years to get to a second draft. I finished it (for some definition of “finished”) last August, when my son was seven months old. (I’d only been about a chapter and a half away when he was born, so it didn’t take too long once I had time to put my mind to it.) I gave the second draft, inconsistent and full of holes, to my husband, his sister, and his mother to read. They gave me encouraging feedback, and basically told me that I needed to write more of it. Then a whole lot of life happened, and finally last month I found my hard copy of the second draft, and started to work on the third draft.
I’m reading the second draft straight through and working toward the third draft at the same time. There are some significant structural problems with the second draft, and massive pacing problems, and there’s something essential missing from the middle that I don’t know what is. I made myself crazy for about three weeks trying to figure all this out, and I did make some good lists of questions and fill a corkboard with index cards…
…but after a while I started feeling like I was chasing my tail in five different circles. I just wasn’t ready to figure all these things out yet, certainly not all at once.
Thankfully my mother-in-law got me untangled again. I was telling her about how I felt stuck and something was missing and I wasn’t getting anywhere, and she suggested I should try writing some chapters from other characters’ points of view.
My imagination lit afire. Immediately I could see how Chapter 7 could be better from Augustus’s point of view, how 12 could be better from Finn’s, the prologue from Flora’s. My book has a big cast, and the many perspectives this idea offered might help me to think from different angles, try something new, shake things loose that might help to address the big problems that I couldn’t figure out in the abstract.
My husband and I have recently agreed that I should have a weekly four-hour block when I can work on my book uninterrupted. Things so fell out that last week, I couldn’t find time for it until Friday, and then I had a spasm of trying to figure out all the big abstract problems again, and began chasing my tail. And I was feeling so miserable that it finally hit me. “Enough!” I said to myself. “Just start writing!”
And I sat down and started five different chapters from five different points of view and wrote a total of 2,500 words in less than four hours. I had a blast! It was such a relief to let my imagination go, try out different perspectives and voices, and just to write again.
There are always a million things I want to do, and one of the things that’s difficult about trying to do them with a toddler in the house is that any progress has to be agonizingly slow. It can even feel sometimes like I’ve tried something, and it hasn’t helped me, when all that’s really happened is that I haven’t had time to actually do it yet. My “apparent lack of progress” can be really discouraging, because my sense of what I should be able to accomplish in a given amount of time, bears no relationship to what I actually can fit in around a toddler and a house and life in general. It was really important to realize that my expectations were wildly unrealistic, because then I could cut way down on the stress about not getting very much accomplished.
I’m also trying to remember that this is just one season of my life, when my son is small, and there are aspects that just have to be survived, along with the ones that must be cherished. Right now most of my responsibility is to him, and in some ways that’s a lot harder than I’d expected, but in some ways it’s also better than I’d hoped. He’s getting bigger all the time, and it gives me so much joy that he’s always really happy to see me. I get to be here while he learns, and plays, and can walk but still prefers to crawl. I get to rock him in the chair every night. The truth is, he’s so good at entertaining himself, and usually such a regular napper, I’m lucky to get as much time for my own projects as I do.
I’ve often said about teaching, that a professor’s expectations of their students should be high, but attainable. Is there anything harder than taking your own advice?