Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Challenge - writing in the present moment

I'm reading the new Michael Ondaatje - The Cat's Table. What to say...what to say? I love every moment I'm in his mind. Every moment. I would like to read it like a writer - take it apart and see how he does his magic - but no. I certainly do not want to do that. I want to be lost in his story.
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!

10 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I love Sestito's thoughts on writing without goals. So, so hard for me to do, though! Might have to work up to that.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I can write fiction in short spurts, but for non-fiction, I need 1-2 hours of uninterrupted thought.

Talli Roland said...

Oh goodness. I'm not sure I could write without goals. I do write for a good 3-4 hours every morning, and I love it. I feel cast adrift if I don't!

Escape Artist said...

Hello Jan! Hope all is well with you! I'm so glad to hear you are enjoying, 'The Cat's Table.' I haven't picked it up as yet, so I now will put to the top of the list!
So thanks for reminding me.

Diane said...

I love this writing challenge. I will give it a go come Tuesday. Thanks for sharing.

Jan Morrison said...

Elizabeth – yes, isn’t he wonderful? This is the hardest thing I think but if we ever get there naturally, as in ‘the words just flew onto the page, I hardly knew how they got there,’ then we can do it on purpose. At least, that’s what I think.

Diane –you are obviously already in the zone. I need to write for two hours but I need to get up and stretch every 25 minutes or so…revising – even more so!

Talli – Maybe you already do. Like if you get a story you are really nuts about and you don’t care who else likes it.

Escape Artist – finished it this morning and thought it was wonderful. I’ve read such good books this late summer – Ann Pachet’s World of Wonder, Emma Donahue’s Room,
Mary Rose Donnely’s Great Village . A wonder of richness all.

Diane – good! Let me know how it works.

Faith Pray said...

It's so easy to second guess as I write, stuttering over the sticky spots and nearly throwing myself onto the floor in despair in my doubts. I like this instruction! - to simply book my time and meet it faithfully, worrying over the outcome later. It is good to be back and read your blog again!

Jan Morrison said...

Helloooooo dear Faith! Your map-hearts greet me over my desk...and yes, it is a blessed relief to let go of outcome and concentrate on process. Here's to the work!!

J.P. Hansen said...

"I love every moment I'm in his mind." Great sentence. That's how I feel about all my favorite authors, but I've never articulated it so clearly.

Laura said...

Just quoted you in my review of The Cat's Table. I died when I read "if there were stars" as well.

http://reading-in-bed.com/2013/05/21/the-cats-table-by-michael-ondaatje/