October 30, 2010
And indeed there will be time
. . .
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse
. . .
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
— T. S. Eliot, 1888-1965
American-born English poet, essayist, playwright, and critic
from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
The creative process can be hard to quantify. It’s said that Oscar Wilde, on being asked what he’d done all day, replied that he had spent the morning taking a comma out, and the afternoon putting it back in. The story is apocryphal, and told of others, and given as an example of the speaker’s sarcasm, the putting on of airs about the writing life, but probably everyone who writes seriously has had days like that.
When I am at a residency (this is my third), when I have been awarded time and support over others who applied, I feel an obligation to be productive. No one asks for a report, no one expects you to do exactly and only what you said you were going to do in your application, but still, something in me wants to honor the confidence any colony or conference has in me and my work.
I came to the Vermont Studio Center with a clearer plan of work than I did when I went to Jentel and to Hambidge. “Take four stories and revise the hell out of them, one each week.” So here we are at the end of Week 1, Story 1. Can I measure out what I did in Coffee Spoons?
Spoonful #1 — I wrote 18 pages in longhand in my journal. The pages are messy, crinkly from setting down my coffee cup on them or taking up the pen moments after washing my hands (because I’d had a thought or an insight in the bathroom), some of the work in the purple ink I use to work on fiction, some of it non-narrative and non-linear, in outline form, in list form, with crossouts, arrows, checkmarks in a different color, scribbles in the margins.
Spoonful #2 — I attended a craft talk by nonfiction writer Michael Steinberg and took two pages of notes, attended his reading, attended an informal gathering of other resident writers here to share our work and read a very short piece of fiction, watched two baseball games (with a third later tonight), and worked two dinner shifts.
Spoonful #3 — I read Margo Rabb’s short novel Cures for Heartbreak. It’s narrated by a fourteen-year-old girl whose mother has died suddenly of an aggressive cancer. I chose it to fix in my head the voice of the adolescent protagonist, because the story I chose to work on this week uses that same point of view. I also read two short stories in anthologies I picked up at random in the Mason House living room where I have my C&C each morning.
Spoonful #4 — I wrote four blog posts (including this one) and made notes for three more, one about Michael Steinberg’s notions about nonfiction, one about my new place by a new river, and one about the Margo Rabb book.
Spoonful #5 — In the work I came here to do, I took “Bad Girls,” a story I began in 2004, from a 6500-word second-and-a-half draft to a solid 7000-word third. That 500-word increase seems paltry, but it took five days of discarding material that wasn’t working, enhancing material that was, and introducing some new scenes. And I made a chart of things to do when I come back to this in the new year.
And I am taking the rest of the day off!
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