Don't You Go Thinkin'


With eight inches of snow on the ground and no sign of rescue by plow just yet, I'm in a wonderful position for forced introspection (as well as listening to the Steve Forbert tune referenced above), and the specific topic of this self-examination has to some degree been my failure to get anything written lately. Since Christmas break, I've gotten plenty of schoolwork done, read several books, and come up with at least one idea (and a couple of pages) for a short story, but I haven't done anything significant on the writing front in roughly a month, which is not normal for me.

Part of the reason, I've decided, is sheer fatigue. For reasons that passeth all understanding, our dorm duty schedule was altered at the start of this year. In the old days, we'd be on duty once every six days during the fall, while our admissions officers were traveling, and once they came off the road and joined the duty team, we'd be on once every eight days. This year, however, duties and rosters and assignments were rejiggered, leaving everyone on a six-day rotation--except for one trimester of the year, when each master would go on a FIVE-day rotation. In other words, I've been pulling my eight-AM-to-midnight duties at a furious clip since the New Year. That tends to disrupt one's flow.

Mind you, I've been typing. My hands were actually a little sore yesterday because of all the keyboard work I've been doing. But I've mostly been typing stuff like Facebook status posts or quiz answers on Sporcle.com. Okay, yes, I did put together a seven-point manifesto for our school newspaper to follow in the future, but that was only about a page and a half. No, I've been doing lots and lots of short walks in and out of my brain, but I haven't tried to strap on my boots and head out to Writerland in some time.

And yes, I'm well aware of the rhythms that I tend to fall into as a writer. Basically, they're systolic and diastolic, just like the heart--there's an input phase and an output phase. Periodically I have to stop pumping stuff out and let myself fill back up. I've been doing that, at least, having finished the year's eighth book (Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals) during yesterday's snowstorm. And the stuff that's coming in already proving helpful; in fact, it was my reading of The Best American Science Writing 2009 a couple of weeks back that gave me the idea for the short story I'm working on.

And of course, a lot of this is predicated on the never-easy waiting to hear from agents and editors. I've got two manuscripts out there, and if I get a nibble on one of them, I promise you'll see instantaneous productivity in getting editorial changes and polishes done.

All in all, however, it's undeniable that the hard part of writing isn't the fingers-on-keys part. No, as many have observed, Michael Chabon among them, writing is about making decisions, and making decisions requires thinking, and thinking can be hard work. Daydreaming up wild ideas? No problemo! I can (and do) take care of that business all the time, even when I'm in the shower or hauling the garbage cans down to the street. But deciding which ideas to keep and which to discard? That requires concentration. You have to select words that might get the idea down in a satisfactory way, then move them around, then pull them out and replace them with other words, then put some of the old words back in, but in a different order, then decide if they'll fit with the words you wrote earlier... It's a lot like building a house, except that you don't have any blueprints, and there's no budget, and you don't know how many people will be on the construction crew, and you're not entirely sure where the lot is.

Heck, it was hard enough getting this post put together this morning, and this is a pretty paltry little lean-to of words, isn't it?

Anyway, you don't need to send get-well cards or worry that I've shut up for good, a la J.D. Salinger (who shut up long before he went to his grave earlier this week). No, the systole will be back. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. It's just that it's hard to think about the dub in the middle of the lub.

Then again, maybe I should have thought harder about that last sentence.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on January 31, 2010 11:56 AM.

Questions and Answers was the previous entry in this blog.

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