On Hitting Day 50 of #100DaysOfStories

I hit day 50 of my challenge #100DaysOfStories last week. I’d let off keeping track of the days that I actually managed to write for a full hour, although I hadn’t stopped using that time frame as the goal. Also, because the Daily Writing Challenge spreadsheet I use was originally created for the 250 words a day challenge, getting at least 250 remains a goal as well.

So for instance, in writing “The Gods That Made God” (aka “Young Gods”) I might write for a full hour for several days. But once the story reached its end, the most important thing I can do during the daily hour is read/review/re-write. So then I would do a free write on some other essay or story (I also like to do this in order to prime the pump even when not doing re-writes) to get up 250 words, and then I can spend the rest of the time combing through the story and not think about whether I’m meeting my word count.

I’m tired.

I was up last night, not because of my younger son, but awake for 3 hours just because. I suspect this is the inevitable return of my monthly hormonal cycle; while I’m neither ovulating or menstruating quite yet, the ghost of the hormone machine is beginning to crank up, getting ready for full gear in a few months, I suppose.

What have I learned in these first 50 days? That it took 5 months to get those hours. That many days all I can muster 250 words, or about 15 minutes. That in order to do anything at all, I have to abandon whatever story I wanted to work on, and just free write a blog post on my feelings or reactions to the news.

What I’ve learned is that like marriage, the only thing in writing is getting back up and starting over again. There is no there-there; some days I feel it, feel the deep soul of my relationship filling me up, illuminating each aspect of my life. And a lot days I just tread water. Like my marriage, I riot and complain and threaten to leave … and then get right back to it in the morning. These 50 days have taught me that like my marriage or running, the comfort is not in what is accomplished, but rather the routine itself, the repetition.

What I’ve come to respect in these 50 days is how crappy a writer I am. I’ve written about it in this blog, but I can’t stress enough how hard that simple fact is to face. As I discussed with my brother, and he agreed he faced the same, when you realize that you will never glamorously succeed, that the fantasy must be retired, a gush goes out of you. Like a dam let loose, you watch that power rush away and standing in the trickle that barely covers your ankles, you think, man, is this enough force? In the end all the energy was in the dream.

I’m tired.

I also think there maybe something important in enjoying the story that I’m writing, finding the whole process not a chore or a drag, but a simple, indulgent joy. But I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure how to get there. Maybe like running, there’s days for knowing that everything hurts and that all you can do is a maintenance run and there are others where you realize you soar.

Disappointed, Diadactic

In an interview with Zadie Smith, the interviewer [Terri Gross?] said that she, Smith, had said of herself that she was always disappointed when she finished a novel. I don’t know and haven’t been able to find the original quote. But for me, hearing it, there was a gulf of relief.

Maybe that’s what we all know, all fear about finishing something. Or, ha, even beginning. That at the end, we will be left with how far we are from what we wanted.

I suppose there are those that can sustain the fantasy of successful creation (and reception). But most (I assume) have fantasies in tides that recede, leaving us stranded, naked, exposed, beneath the sun.

And, ok, maybe there’s times/people/places where the creation is enough. It’s just good enough.

But back to me.

Knowing that it’s ok, that even great writers feel let down, that’s something just to breathe into. Know. Accept.

When I was just past the cusp of my thirties, I related to a friend how I thought this decade was off to a good start. She was a couple of years older, had a young daughter and partner. Had an MFA. Had already dropped out of a graduate school, all but dissertation completed. Her response was more measured: you know who you love, what your life is. She didn’t say, but is almost needless to say: you know yourself. What you are and what you aren’t.

I am didactic. I know it was true when I was when I was young, with every character or element a proxy for some larger concept or entity. And I hated how awful my writing was, I would go into tangents, write up a storm, and then in reviewing them, be so deeply embarrassed by my writing, that I’d shutter it all away. I still carry these notebooks with me, but nothing, almost nothing, is near completion.

And now I look at what I have with the same disenchantment.

I’ve been busy, called on to do more than usual with work. And it’s good, I’ve racked up extra hours I can put toward the future. But getting out the practice of giving my first good hours toward writing pushes it to a recess of the mind. Suddenly I’m thinking of all the coding I should be doing, skills that, you know, might actually help something other than my vanity.

I realize there’s another thing: reading about Dennet, a philosopher of the mind. And how as a young man he started out as a sculptor, had success, but realized he wasn’t really good enough. What a relief to just stop, move something out of your path with the whisk of a thought. Rather than beat yourself, feel there is nothing but this, and you suck at it.