Damn. I have created a monster. And it’s me.
Be careful what you wish for. Be careful what you intend. It can come back to bite you, and it’s going right for your butt.
Monday: a first chapter. Exactly the feeling I was hoping for. A diseased vacant lot, the stage for a miracle. Tuesday: an overnight visit to a beloved friend. Wednesday morning: breakfast with another dear one. Two fine reactions to the chapter from these friends. Arrived back to the river house with a tape full of notes. And a bear trap.
What a good idea it seemed to be: go through the notebooks, type out the notes for the next chapter, shape the chapter, write. Oh, the curse of good intentions.
The exact process that serves me is where I went wrong.
One note transcribed to laptop. Another. Okay, put the note in the chapter where it will end up. Save yourself another trip to the notebook–you’re here anyway. Notes into their proper places, more or less. Create skeleton chapters to work on later. Mark through the notebooks with yellow marker to indicate that they’ve been moved.
What I’ve discovered: Four hundred-plus pages of notes is an effin’ lot of notes. And it’s a page count that’s growing, not shrinking. Emptying the notebooks from one end, filling them back up with ideas: Once you’ve started this process, you can’t stop. The good intention for one chapter is suddenly a good idea for the first five, with titled lists for the stuff too aimless to have a landing place for now, but too good to throw away.
A good idea gone Mobius-crazy.
The good news: Chapters that have found structure. A story that is building itself before my eyes. The bad news: It is Saturday. I have reached page 260 of notes out of 400-plus, have slotted most where they belong…but I do not have one more chapter to revel in, to call my own. And I have food poisoning. Or the flu. Oh my.
This work is secretarial, in a way. It is delightful and filling and thought-provoking. It is worthy work that has suggested where the gaps are and where the glory is. And yet. Yes, the notes are writing. Yes, they are the building blocks, the substance, of everything that will rise from them. But they are not the writing itself. And now that the process has begun, it can’t be discontinued until it is done.
A hard harvest, this. Even assuming that I recover from this sudden illness by end of day, I am pressed by the hard-stop of Sunday. I need to straighten the house and head back to Colorado, job, and the paid demands upon my attention. Yes, the work of the past few days is an investment in ease, a pre-digesting of ideas that will speed future chapters. But it is not the gold in the hand, the chapters themselves. The joys I’ve amassed so far are substantial, but they are the appetizer, not the meal.
I came into this week with few expectations, except that I would come away with a chapter or two. I have come away with more. And less. And a sore back.
As writers, we must be careful what we wish for. And grateful for what we are given. Whatever it is. Even if it gives us the fidgets.
Stop me before I organize again.