Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 22, 2008

Sorry, but.. No shortcuts

An online friend just issued a challenge: who else feels like she’s in danger or drowning amid a swamp of papers? I’m not linking since it was a friends-locked post, but I’m waving back amid my not-quite-first-draft, but far far far from final draft. The structure keeps sliding around. Most of the sentences sport all kinds of dangling things or were ripped in two before they were even finished, and abandoned.
Could something look tidy here?

Big sigh. Not yet.

Then today I came in from grocery shopping and did that can-I-save-two-minutes or lose-twenty-minutes juggle as I loaded my arms with bags while telling myself: Do not do this. You’ve done this before. A bag will crash and spill and break your toes or make a mess. But I did it anyway, and this time, I won the game and reached the kitchen.

But more often shortcuts backfire. A friend of mine is sad because she didn’t get a job she applied for. She’s hardly finished telling me this story when she said, “But I don’t want to become a bitter person.”

That’s okay, I tell her. “I’ll let you know if the whine goes on too long. But you just lost something you spent a lot of time trying for. You get to be sad for more than a morning.”

Gratitude is a good thing, but even the blessing-counters get to take a break sometimes and mutter, “Oh no no no no no no, this is not right.” We race to get to the end of our chores and our setbacks and our stories. If only we could. A book is big. There’s a lot of messiness to make, then wade through, then cut. There’s a lot of unknowing, all those cautious steps and a few brave get-me-through jumps. I’m trying, and it’s working only a bit, to enjoy the mud and muck of early drafting while finding smaller things to finish. I’ll pull out one sentence and shine it up. There! Lovely! I’ll let myself gaze – until I begin to see its flaws, and tuck it away for now. Then go back to writing unpretty and downright ugly sentences that may show me where I need to go.

And the silence around me starts to feel friendly again.



  1. Oh, yeah. It’s been so long since I’ve worked on a first draft that I think it’s sort of idealized in my memory…all freedom and no worried. In reality, I know better. I love your metaphor (analogy?!) of rushing the groceries in. I have another–when my father was a veterinarian, he too often picked up the 100+ pound dog himself, rather than get someone to help him get it up onto the exam table. Frequent result: several days of walking bent over and rolling sideways to get out of the car, from putting his back out. He didn’t save any time that way, believe me.
    I started rushing in again yesterday, trying to weave in a character to a scene. It did not work. Took some more sitting and thinking this a.m. before I knew what he would be actually DOING in that scene.
    You’d think I’d never written this chapter before. 🙂 Hang in there.

  2. This reminds me of that Zen saying: Less hurry, more speed.

  3. I love this post. *happy sigh*
    I’ve got lots of paper (mostly mail and filing, but still). And that last long paragraph is so comforting to me.
    Here’s to finding friendly silence.

  4. I guess all the stages have their good and bad points, and naturally, we idealize the ones we’re not in! It keeps us going, right?
    Sounds like things are going well for you if you can know within the same afternoon that something you did wasn’t working. And fixed it the next day! Yay!

  5. That’s a great saying and one I should tape to the garage door. Thanks!

  6. Thank you, Kelly. We will wrestle that silence into friendliness.. or sit it out.. or something. I know it doesn’t have to be this itchy.

  7. I am, at present, taking a wee break from the Jane project. I’ve been working on other things, because I got to a wheel-spinning, knot-making sort of place with the Jane poems (hours of research and false starts, nearly no usable product). I still love the idea and the project, but I got a bit burnt out. Plus, the kids were home. And too much of my psychic energy was being used up to be able to really work on Jane. So, that’s one way of dealing with the itch (I believe it’s the “sit it out” way).

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