09 April 2009

A Room of One's Own


I'm getting to be a bit discouraged in my hopes of revising Hereafter.

Writing the above is something like saying aloud, "I wish I sang more," instead of singing it.

And the impulse here is to explain myself, to offer reasons and excuses for why more writing hasn't gotten done, but those would just be excuses and not get me anywhere. I could also spend some time discussing the ins and outs of my psyche as it relates to this work (lucky you!) in the hopes of working out some pat answer to the question of why revision is so difficult for me. But where would that get me, but to pat-land, an area noted for its stultifying effect on progress? No, something else needs to happen here. I started this post because I wanted to warm-up my writing brain a bit, without getting distracted into another project, one what is fresh, and new, and thereby relatively problem-free.

The title of this post of course refers to Virginia Woolfe. In trying to address a lecture regarding "women and fiction," she can offer only this minor-point opinion:


"[A] woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved."

It's a pretty brilliant essay, and I'm grateful to whatever college-level English professor assigned it to me. I am not the world's biggest fan of Virginia Woolfe -- I could have spat in the eye of whoever assigned me Mrs. Dalloway to read -- but I can't deny that she was very intelligent, and very, very good at writing. Although in this essay Woolfe is writing specifically about the problems presented to female writers of her day and age, it resonates for me. I don't have a whole lot in common with the women of 1928 and I don't mean to suggest that I do, but I identify with the day-to-day struggles involved in creating a space within which one can expound and expand one's creative life.

By "space," I mean both environmental and plain ol' mental. One of the 'blogs I've been enjoying a lot lately is Lifehacker. They've had a segment for a little while now that showcases particularly beautiful and, for the most part, home, "workspaces." Every so often, a photograph of a really appealing place to sit and write drops into my Google Reader subscription bay, and I stare at it, longingly. After I've wiped away the tears and drool, I return to the reality of my cubicle, or my corner of our one-bedroom apartment's main space, and recommence paying bills or emailing potential In Bocca al Lupo students or whatever else it is I'm doing that isn't revising my script. Most of the work I've done on Hereafter has come in spurts of free time coinciding with some inspiration. Now, you can write a first draft that way, eventually. Turns out that doesn't work so well for revision. No, with revision, you have to sit there and acknowledge what you've done and accept -- nay, seek out! -- every little thing that's wrong with it.

I have probably psyched myself out in more ways than one with this. I've spent a lot of time ruminating, and not a lot of time just doing, and that can easily lead to a declension of momentum. One gets to the point at which one can see nothing but problems, and one never intended to write the durn thing in the first durn place. That's all rubbish. I get really rather T-O'd with myself for that kind of stinking thinking but, like most thoughts of that nature, it's tough to defeat when it really gets going. Such thoughts are like classic Romero zombies. You would THINK that they'd be easy enough to defeat, what with the shambling and the non-tool-using intelligence, but before you know it, and probably because you underestimated the S.o.B.s, you're trapped in a rickety old house without your shotgun and your constipated brother's there starting to twitch and crave "b-b-bran...". Psychologically speaking, of course.

Huh. A zombie Orlando (in the tradition of Pride and Prejudice). It's time, I think.

Anyway, my point is merely that grappling with revision is a bit reminiscent to me of what it's like to be in rehearsal, and just...not...GETTING IT. There's the problem(s), right there, right in front of you, and you just keep trying different things until at long last something fells like less of a total failure. Then you try some more. It's a weird place to be, because you need the desire (and resulting frustration) to some degree to keep you motivated, but you also need to let that go entirely to get anywhere. That's part of the silent magic of a rehearsal room. It's the place to make mistake, after mistake, after mistake, a place of unspoken agreement that everyone there is going to repeatedly fail, spectacularly, for the chance to make one or two moments of bright, shiny truth -- diamonds formed from compressed failure. That's what it's like at its best, anyway. Occasionally you get a director who's only interested in seeing immediate final product. Just like sometimes you get drafted into a senseless war, or are hit by a semi truck. Just like that.

Creating a space of time, thought, feeling and, of course, SPACE for writing is essential. Money helps with that. Not just in buying a nice desk and affording supplies, but in creating a lifestyle that allows some niche into which we can squeeze ourselves, and expand, until it swells into enough space to move around in. Money might have fixed up that rickety, zombie-at-baying house of ours. Money is good and essential, yet money can never replace the will and ability to make a little mental room of one's own.

2 comments:

Patrick said...

I'm with ya, Babe. I think revisions are also hard because we start thinking "does anyone else care of this thing ever gets done, besides me?" That first flush of getting the idea DOWN ON THE PAGE can usually pull us through a lot. Refining it, especially if the going gets sludgy, I often find myself thinking ahead of myself, wondering about who might more might not give a rat's ass about what I'm doing. Which is no help, of course.

Not that you actually asked for advice, but I have a few suggestions. One is to create that sense of sacred space by picking a TIME when you write, ideally the same time every day, so your unconscious gets used to it. I believe you do something like this with exercise, yes? Another suggestion: create a ritual you do to set up the space. Throw all the bills/papers/distractions in a box. Turn off your phone, light a candle, whatever changes the atmosphere even if you can't change the room. Final suggestion: write in cafes. It worked for JK Rowling, among others. I'm experimenting with some of these things myself at present.

Jeff Wills said...

Time, as in the time I have or can make for myself, is feeling very scant for me these days. I know it's there somewhere, but it's being rather ninja-like. As Megan can attest, this has inspired some "HULK SMASH" moments from me of late, which is entirely unhelpful of course.

The cafe thing TOTALLY works for me, which is part of why I've been saving up for a laptop (that I won't break, that I won't break, THAT I WON'T BREAK) and pawing at coffee shop windows like a hungry kitten. Something about that environment wakes me up and focuses me at the same time.