My Computer, My Friend?

Dante would have had to invent a new level of Hell if he had used a computer.  There is truly nothing worse for a writer than a computer malfunction.  I’ve had many of them in the past, most of which haven’t been the computer’s fault at all.

I’ve learned to back up everything multiple places, but even that hasn’t always Dantesaved me from working on one copy  one day and another copy the next and having different changes in different texts. Very, very hard to get it all back straight again.

I’ve learned to save something as long as a novel in chunks of about 100 pages.  My novel in progress is in Part 3, and I won’t consolidate the whole thing until it is entirely finished, after Part 4.  This is a good move, since I really don’t have to worry about screwing up more than the current section, although it does make going back through the text more complicated.

Over the years I’ve developed so many techniques for saving myself from myself that it was not as familiar a sensation as it might have been when this morning I managed to lose hours of work over what really was a computer malfunction, assisted, of course by carelessness on my part.

I love my new Mac for the most part, but there are times when you ask too much of it and it sits frozen in a holding pattern for what seems like an eternity.  Often the only way to get back to work is to shut off the power and reboot.  This morning that happened, and, assuming it would have automatically saved what I had just written, I blithely powered it off. When I went back, to my surprise, the manuscript contained nothing of my new work.  Nowhere on my computer was it backed up and I had nada, nothing, niente, to show for my effort.

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I have taken about six weeks off from writing my new novel, and I have been finding it hard to make my way back into it. This morning was my first serious attempt to write, and it was flowing again like crazy.

“I’m back!”  I thought.  “This is good stuff!”

And then it was gone.  Instead of trying to return to where I was in my imagination, I first tried to rewrite what I remembered already having put down.  It clunked on the page this time around.  Lifeless.  Not good at all.

So I dug in again, going back into my imagination to re-envision everything, and I honestly think what I wrote is better this time.  In my first draft I didn’t see nearly as many possibilities for how this scene could both tie in the past and help move the story into the next phase.  I can’t say I love glitches, but maybe sometimes its best to see them as unappreciated friends. Just as long as they don’t act up too often!


Back at ya…

Okay, I’ve done it.  I reopened the manuscript for my new novel, and just as I predicted, I’m back there, ready to dig in, push on, and see what happens next.  Two more days of classes before spring break, and then ten days to write.


Tiptoeing Back

There once was an author Corona

Who said of her new book “I’m gonna…”

Write it, she means,

But then life intervenes

For so long she now says, “I don’t wanna.”

Ahhh, it’s so predictable.  The novel languishes while everything else has to take precedence, and now it seems like a territory I’m as reluctant to reinvade as a parent is to go into a room where a child is finally taking a nap.

Will it wake up flushed with sleep, demanding to come out and be part of the fun again? A novel is too inert for that, like the piano keys tucked under a closed lid, or a car waiting silently in the garage.  Or like something in the freezer, mutely allowing itself to be pushed to the back, taking on a fur of ice while it burns with neglect….

There I go being a writer again, always looking for the poetic language, the simile, the just-right image.  My book is none of those things.  It’s too big even to make my long to-do list. I don’t put “go to work” on my to-do list either.  Or breathe, eat, sleep, or check my mail.  Some things pulse like blood.  Some things are on a “never don’t” list we have no need to post.

A book isn’t really like that either. It can be forgotten, at least for a while, but it has this nasty habit of morphing into something really scary, like the monster under the bed that slipped in when you made a quick trip to the bathroom.

I’m afraid of the computer folder the manuscript file is in, like kids are afraid of the house where the crazy neighbor lives. It’s part of a mental map though, and I always know when I’m nearby.  In fact, I’m never more than a few mouse clicks away.

A big writing project gets built up in the mind beyond all reason. Writing a novel takes me over, demands more than I think I have to give.  But all I have to do is start reading from the beginning and I will fall in love all over again with my story and my characters, and with the sheer joy of being the one who can change it all, or change none of it.  Add to that the pleasure of knowing I am finding a way to teach readers important things about far-off times and places. Given all that wonderfulness, t’s hard to remember why I ever stopped writing even for a day.

Just writing this diary entry is helping me get ready for the Fibber McGee closet that is my book.  I’ll open the door and it will all come tumbling out on me–every last blessed bit of it, written and yet to be created.

“Welcome back!” it will say.

“I missed you,” I’ll reply.


The Best Unlaid Plans

Unlaid Plans

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:robert_burns_1
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Even without a glossary of Robert Burns’ Scots dialect in his 1785 poem “To a Mouse,” the sentiment is pretty clear: Planning can often be no match for what the world delivers.

I recall one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons of a smiling, briefcase-carrying man in a business suit strutting along thinking about how well he’s taking care of his health, while just above him a safe falling from an upper story is headed straight for him.

When things are going extraordinarily well, it’s natural to project just how good they might get, and therefore it’s equally important to remember that they probably won’t.  A few months back I wrote an entry here explaining how when editing and revising is taken into account, a relatively fast writer can still only produce about 2 pages of finished text in a full day.  Do the math another way, and it should take only 200 days–less than 7 months–to have a complete 400-page novel polished and ready for publication.  I hope that sounds as absurd to non-writing readers as it does to me.

Blue sky, rainy days.  Count on them both.  The trick, I think, is to enjoy every day even if it isn’t what one anticipated or desired.  When I’m traveling and don’t know where I am, I tell myself “I’m not lost.  I’m just not where I expected to be.”  It’s kind of the same with writing, and I’ve found that what’s true about writing applies to pretty much everything else.

So the report for the last three weeks is as follows:  I wrote absolutely nothing, even a diary entry here.  I came to a natural break point in the narrative for my novel-in-progress and couldn’t get myself to dive right in to the targeted research for the next section. And then, the deluge!

I can’t agree with Burns that the last three weeks brought me grief and pain where I had envisioned joy, but it did bring one thing after another, mostly good.  I spent a weekend reconnecting with twenty of my high school classmates as we celebrated our sixtieth birthdays together (I went to a small high school for girls and we have remained close knit).  I was cast in “The Vagina Monologues” at my college and have been rehearsing for that (Come on down to the Saville Theatre at San Diego CIty College on Friday evening March 12 and see me!).  A vacation home I have wanted to sell for a long time is in escrow and I am scurrying around to be ready to close. I applied for a sabbatical for the fall semester and am waiting to hear the results.  I got PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER back from copyediting, with a quick turnaround deadline I’m working on meeting. And then of course, there’s the less fun stuff, like close to 200 papers and 200 tests to grade over a two-week period, as we reach the first round of midterms in the spring semester at my college.

A novel isn’t the kind of thing where one can say “I’ve got a few minutes–I think I’ll get started on that scene.”  To write anything worthwhile requires getting lost in it.  Many times I’ve had to break off from my writing to go teach my classes, and I tell myself I’ll think about the novel on the way to school and try to write more in my office hour if no one is there, but I never do.  Novels are another world, and if I can’t be there, I might as well do something else as wholeheartedly as I write.  Laying plans can be a lot of fun, but knowing how to unlay them with good cheer is the key to enjoying life deluges.