The Cat's Table is more episodic and memoirish than most of his other books (The English Patient, Divisadero) - less dense with poetics but I am gone gone gone when I'm reading it. Here are two lines that I could live in for a century or two - it is when the 11 year old protagonist slips out on the deck of the ship he is on. He sees his older cousin, Emily, talking with a man against the rail. Are they talking or kissing? We don't know.
"I saw the man move the strap of her dress and bring his face down to her shoulder. Her head was back, looking up at the stars, if there were stars."If there were stars! If there were stars! If I wrote that one line, I'd be a satisfied writer. I would. It says everything.
I move more quickly through the book than I would wish. I don't read it outside of my bed. I read it in the morning before I meditate, sipping my coffee (or of late, hot water and lemon, as I am on the 17 Day diet) and slipping into the world of an eleven year old boy crossing the ocean from Sri Lanka to England without a guardian.
Then I come downstairs and look at my work and maybe, just maybe, despair a bit.
So, I turn to Write for Your Lives by Joseph Sestito - Improve Your Creative Writing with Buddhist Wisdom. I've encouraged you to get this book before - and I will again. It isn't a nuts and bolts book like Stephen King's On Writing, or a soul-satisfying encouragement like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. But, when your confidence flags and you don't know where to turn - you can't beat it.
In Sestito's book I have a bookmark. It is one of those charming magnetic ones with a pelican on it. I am foolishly fond of pelicans. The place I've marked is in a chapter called 'Writing in the Present Moment'.
Today I'm going to take one of six possible instructions on how to do this - it is:
3. Mark Your Time - in Sestito's book, he advocates writing or revising for two hours a day. There are lots of reasons for this but you'll have to read his book to find them out! When you are attempting to do process-writing as opposed to outcome-writing, then it is extremely helpful to pay attention to the time you've set aside. Mark it somehow (I use mytomatoes.com with its 25 minute blocks until I've accomplished my 120 minutes). While you're in that time - drop all your attention to other things - dedicate yourself to the actual process of writing or revising - without any attention to the outcome. When you have thoughts like "I wonder if this is a saleable book?" or "I'll never get how to plot.", gently remind yourself that right now - for these two hours, you are enjoying the process you are in - free of goals. The effect of this strategy is profound. You will remember WHY you want to write. You will get into the groove of the metaphor, the deliciousness of language, the thrill of a story...
Go on - I dare ya!