What I’m Writing

One of the reasons I started this blog was to find and foster community among my fellow mother-writers, and I’ve already found a lovely one in Maddy over at Writing Bubble. She invited me to join her weekly link up that she co-hosts with Chrissie over at Muddled Manuscript (oh, I love that name) called, “What I’m Writing,” which of course I can’t resist.

This week I’ve spent much of my (minimal) writing time polishing up the rusty bits of a blog post and formatting my very first newsletter (!) that I will be sending out shortly. I really enjoyed writing the newsletter, but felt a bit guilty that I wasn’t working on the novel.

Oh, the novel! It’s like my albatross, but a very special and beloved albatross that I tend to with absolute devotion despite its overwhelming weight and refusal to budge off my neck.

Photo Credit: ultomatt via Compfight cc They look so innocent flying in the air.

Photo Credit: ultomatt via Compfight cc
They look so innocent flying in the air.

But I will say, I’ve made progress on it this year. Last January I dusted off my woefully neglected albatross, I mean, manuscript – one that sat in a safe (literally, a safe!) for five years. I had finished it just two days before giving birth to my daughter…who is now six and a half. Do the math if you must. It’s not pretty.

Photo Credit: elseniorfox via Compfight cc Ok, it wasn't this old.

Photo Credit: elseniorfox via Comp fight cc
Ok, it wasn’t quite this old.

One day while my daughter was in kindergarten and my son with his sitter, I read the whole thing, from start to finish. I don’t know what I expected, certainly not perfection or genius (I’m not that deluded), but I also didn’t think it would be total garbage (though parts came close). When I finally put the pages down I felt a strange sense of relief. I knew what I had to do. Start again.

I salvaged what I could, about sixty pages, and then cut the rest of it. There is still a file on my computer with 200+ pages that should for all intents and purposes be deleted but I can’t bear to do so, yet. Since then I’ve written many, many more pages, some of which have made the cut while many more have not.

You have to be ruthless as a writer, but you also have to hold onto a certain naiveté or willful ignorance. Dani Shapiro says it well in her book, Still Writing:

“So how do we make peace with the knowledge that every word, every sentence we write may very well hit the cutting room floor? Well, we don’t make peace with this knowledge. We willfully disregard it.”

That’s what I’m doing as I work on my novel. Some days the task feels so monumental, so overwhelming, it’s like chipping away at a glacier with a toothpick.

Photo Credit: blue polaris via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: blue polaris via Compfight cc

But I keep on going, not knowing what will be saved or cut, not knowing if this latest draft will be good enough to merit an edit, and then, after that, if it will ever be read by eyes other than my own.

I’m writing in the dark, slow and steady like the tortoise because my kids are young and underfoot, and that’s how it has to be, for now.

But I sense with a kind of animal instinct, or maybe just a writerly one, that I’m approaching something with my novel. There is a quickening, a slight uptake in the beating of my heart. I feel as though I’m on a roller coaster, ratcheting up the tracks. Before all I could hear was the steady clacking sound, but now I can see something too, a glimmering in the distance. I am getting closer to the top. Closer than I have been. If I keep going I will finish. And that is my goal.

What are you working on? Are you chipping away a sliver at a time or are you making great gouges?

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21 thoughts on “What I’m Writing

  1. I’m so glad you’ve joined in with #WhatImwriting – welcome! Thanks for the shout out at the beginning of the post too.

    I love this post – so much of it is so familiar to me. I’m also writing a book at a tortoise pace, although you are doing much better than me since I haven’t even finished the first draft of mine! I keep getting distracted by other writing projects (let alone kids and the rest of life) so it’s very hard to find time for it. At the moment I can’t bear the idea that I’ll have to cut huge chunks out – I’m definitely ‘wilfully disregarding’ that fact! It sounds like you are in a good place with your novel though – exciting times ahead! You’ll get there! Thanks for linking up. xx

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  2. It sounds like you’re getting closer than you realise. Editing is a huge task. I thought I’d start chopping bits out and then one of my first drafts would be ready for publishing. Not so much now that I have three disparate sections all looking very forlorn and no motivation to try and glue them together. I love to create great big files of writing then leave them raw. I dislike changing anything.
    Ah, the File of Shame where all the bits we can’t part with go to cower. Got a fair few of those as well.
    It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to where you want to be, just as long as you get there.
    Thank you for linking up and sharing with #whatimwriting (and for the compliment on the blog name. Mine are most certainly muddled!) Looking forward to seeing what the New Year brings x

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    • Thanks so much Chrissie, I love the link up and happy to be part of it! Oh the muddled world of my manuscript. It’s hard to know what will happen to it, but I’m ducking down my head and plowing forward. I know how intense the editing process is, but I’m trying to keep my blinders on so I’m not overwhelmed before I even begin that stage. Writing is so much about seeing and at the same time employing bouts of strategic blindness!

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  3. Chrissie here (WordPress account fun.)
    It sounds like you’re getting closer than you realise. Editing is a huge task. I thought I’d start chopping bits out and then one of my first drafts would be ready for publishing. Not so much now that I have three disparate sections all looking very forlorn and no motivation to try and glue them together. I love to create great big files of writing then leave them raw. I dislike changing anything.
    Ah, the File of Shame where all the bits we can’t part with go to cower. Got a fair few of those as well.
    It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to where you want to be, just as long as you get there.
    Thank you for linking up and sharing with #whatimwriting (and for the compliment on the blog name. Mine are most certainly muddled!) Looking forward to seeing what the New Year brings x

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  4. “I’m writing in the dark, slow and steady like the tortoise because my kids are young and underfoot, and that’s how it has to be, for now.” Oh yes. That resonates deeply. I love hearing that you’re working on a book-length project–it inspires me! (Also, I read Still Writing earlier this year & just devoured every word–more than once…what a treasure.)

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    • Thanks so much for your comment Dina. Sometimes I wonder if I should be working on the novel when I could actually be *finishing* smaller projects such as short stories and essays, but I think I just need to get through this draft. Hoping sooner than later!

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  5. This post really resonated for me, Dana. I could relate to the albatross metaphor. Sigh…
    But I am inspired and impressed by your ability to pare your manuscript to the best bits and get rid of the rest. That takes courage!! I’m sending you lots of cyber-encouragement to keep going! You never know where this is going to lead. 🙂

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    • Thank you Jackie, it’s good to know I’m not alone re the albatross! Most of the paring on my novel, during this latest draft, is about editing for content – I eliminated a character and so had to get rid of the (rewritten, sigh) scenes with him – plots changed, so I had to cut and then rewrite. This is all before rereading the (fingers crossed) finished draft. That’s why that Dani Shapiro quote really hit a nerve with me, because I have to willfully disregard the potentially short lifespan of my words, otherwise I’d go crazy.

      I really appreciate the cyber encouragement! I need all the help and good vibes I can get 🙂

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  6. It sounds to me like you’re making progress with the writing, but it must be so hard to ruthlessly edit when it comes time to do it, even when necessary. I really only write short pieces (so far anyway!) so the editing is a little different, although I have been known to cut half of what I’ve written even when the story is only 500 words to begin with! Thank you for the lovely comment on my blog birthday post, and I would love to see you join in with The Prompt 🙂 Have a wonderful Christmas x

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    • Hi Sara, thanks so much for your comment! Editing is hard no matter the size. I think I’m getting better at it with age – experience?! – but it also really helps to have distance from the work. After 5 years in a safe, it was almost like reading someone else’s story, and therefore, a bit easier to cut out big chunks.

      Looking forward to chiming in with The Prompt in the new year!

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  7. Good for you for coming back to something you’ve had put away for such a long time. I think it’s great that you’re so enthusiastic. I love the roller coaster analogy too, writing is very much like a roller coaster isn’t it?

    Good luck with it for the new year. xx

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  8. Well done on getting back to it! I think it can feel overwhelming when you consider the size of the task, I always try to break it down into bite size chunks otherwise I feel too swamped and go and hide under the duvet. I think you do end up cutting out a lot. In my most recent book (now being edited), I kept everything I wrote but 20,000 words didn’t stay in the final version, sometimes I think that was time wasted and sometimes I think there was a reason for writing them and that they’re still important. I like to think the latter! Good luck!

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    • Thanks Emily! It certainly did feel like an overwhelming task, and some days it still does 🙂 But I totally agree, bite size chunks is the only way not to go crazy, and to remain productive.

      WOW, 20,000 is a lot, but I tend to agree it wasn’t a waste but part of your journey of writing it. Sometimes we take detours or wrong turns, but as long as we keep going, we still get to where we want to be.

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