What to do when you’ve erased a day’s work? First, I screamed and had a general freak-out: swearing, scaring the poor cats as I berated the computer for its stupidity (when it was me with the spastic fingers that clicked, “Are you sure you want to exit without saving?”) I still don’t know how I made the mistake. I spent half an hour afterwards trying to restore the file. Alas, prior to “not saving” the file, I also managed to select a large block of text for copying, which wasn’t copied anywhere, and was instead lost to the digital void. Once my frustration had settled, and I realized that I was never going to get the four hours of typing back, I called my partner, who is always good for a jolt of motivation.
He didn’t pick up the phone, since he was working, and even that absence of support was an inspiration for me to get back to the keyboard. I mean, he’s a man who lost his leg in a car-crash while driving to his sister’s funeral. Chew on that for a second—a morsel full of melancholy. Then, during his recovery, he was outed to his entire family by his ex, as well as told by doctors that he would never properly walk again–but he did, and does, quite well. It can feel unfair to trivialize our problems, since our suffering certainly feels deep and scarring to us, regardless of the misfortunes of others. But sometimes we need a dose of perspective. I lost words, not a limb or my dignity. I just needed to make more. That’s what writers do. Suck it up, Buttercup, I said, stop feeling sorry for yourself.
Three hours later, I had written some seriously kick-ass prose. The scene flowed easier, as I had already hammered out the details with what we could say was my practice draft. Now this scene was the climax of the first act: one that spoke not only to the perils of the characters involved, but that cast light on the cultural-cleansing of aboriginal people and of our disdain toward Nature. A lot of that profound messaging could have gone wrong, and when looking at the fluidity and clarity of the “2nd” draft, I realized that it had surely gone wrong on the first pass. I’m glad that material was erased.
One of my ‘writing rules’ has always been to squeeze out the prose and then worry about perfecting it later. I still believe that dedication of this kind is important, however, I discovered (not coined, obviously) a new technique with this misadventure: if a scene doesn’t feel as powerful as it should, sometimes rewriting it from the ground up, rather than trying to patch-up its imperfections isn’t such a bad idea.
With this manuscript, I’ve also been writing in more condensed sessions than before. I used to get up at the crack of dawn’s arse, bemoan my way through a workout, then write for eight hours a day, five to six days a week, and boy was that ever exhausting. As of late, I find I produce the strongest material mid-morning to afternoon, over a four to five hour period (and I exercise at a far more reasonable hour). That not only gives me time to pursue other projects, it stops me from feeling as if I’m a slave to my work. With these concentrated, artistic sessions, the magic of writing has returned. Quality over quantity. Meaningful time spent, versus simply time spent.
These are not sagely reflections that I’ve shared with you today, though they are behavioral changes that have deeply affected my life. For me, this year’s biggest lesson has been learning how much we can gain–wisdom, balance, love—by flipping old habits on their heads. Change is good. When we stop changing, we stop challenging. Our bodies don’t do that, they’re in a constant state of activity, struggle, growth, and regrowth. Why do we let our minds stagnate? We’re only a few months into the year and already I feel like such a different person from who I was six months ago. We should never lose that feeling: the sense of metamorphosis. My mother traveled the world, learned new languages, and even became an Apple Guru—in the months leading up to her death, after never having owned a proper computerized device of any kind. I think that spark, and her thirst for change, kept her life’s fire burning for as long as it did. She surprised us all: the doctors, especially. She, and others like her, prove that Will and passion can push us beyond the limits of despair, or science–they keep us alive.
All my love,
P.S. Credit to the “Taste of Streep” Instagram for this image. It’s one of the internet’s priceless treasures, found here.