Boldly and Fearfully

Last week I told you how I planned to dive into that new novel while also diving into my marathon training. I was scheduled for 5 runs totaling 28 miles; I managed 4 runs totaling 24 miles. That was cool with me, I wasn’t disappointed. That Achilles tendon is still tight, so I didn’t want to push it too hard early in the program. I had also set up a target in Scrivener to hit 50K words in the new project by the time the marathon rolled around on November 17. Giving myself a modest 4 days per week to write, my goal would be just under 700 words per writing day. That seemed 100% doable. Easy, even.

Except that my sum total words since last week is 22. Yeah, I’m not kidding. Twenty-two new words. I had about 30 some pages on the project and I ended up cutting a few pages, leaving the net total falling in the Extremely Paltry category. Today, I mulled over the structure of the story, the main character’s desire, the overall themes and got nowhere.

My son asked how it went today and after I told him about my lack of production, he said, “Didn’t you always say that you have to write a bunch of bad stuff in order to get to the good stuff?”

o_O

Um, yeah. And I’d just read this quote by Annie Dillard on Brainpickings.org yesterday (italics my own):

Path to top of Goodnow Mountain in the Adirdondacks

Path to top of Goodnow Mountain in the Adirdondacks

“When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead-end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year. You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads. At the end of the path, you find a box canyon. You hammer out reports, dispatch bulletins. The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool. The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend. In your humility, you lay down the words carefully, watching all the angles. Now the earlier writing looks soft and careless. Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.”

Then I read this post on fellow VCFA grad L.A. Byrne’s blog. She talks about building, learning to do what needs to be done as opposed to what your body/mind wants to do. And she talked about Monet and how he would move forward and back, forward and back to ensure that the work he did with the paint was achieving the effect he intended.

And didn’t I just say in my last post how the beginning phase of marathon training is about building? It’s about breaking down what your body wants to do (like maybe sit on the couch and watch Season 4 of Gilmore Girls with a bag of Twizzlers) and re-training your body to do something else (like maybe run 10 miles in the August heat).  I know from experience that the more I adhere to the marathon plan, the more my body will respond to the running and even start to crave it.

I also know that if I show up every day at the page, words will come. And if I keep Annie Dillard in mind, I’ll carve that path with my miner’s pick, seeking that vein of gold and once I find it, I won’t look back. I won’t worry about the all the words that had to go down just for me to arrive. I will, in her words, “make the path boldly and follow it fearfully.”

10 responses to “Boldly and Fearfully

  1. Wonderful post, Laura, and so inspiring. Sometimes writing feels a little like falling in love. We fall in love not necessarily by setting a goal to do it but by keeping our hearts open to the possibility. Maybe the muse doesn’t respond well to authority. Mine gets pissed off at it, actually, and I need to go looking for it behind someone’s garage, where it’s drinking cheap beer and flirting with boys in pickup trucks.

  2. LA Byrne — so great to hear from you! And wow, you put that beautifully. I was just musing that I think I’m spending too much time in my head and not enough in my heart on this new project. Thanks for commenting. Your words inspire me again!

  3. At L.A. Byrne: I didn’t even register this line. LOL! “I need to go looking for it behind someone’s garage, where it’s drinking cheap beer and flirting with boys in pickup trucks.”

  4. I love this post, Laura, and the Annie Dillard quote you shared. I just read L.A. Byrne’s post, too, and as I was reading the part about Monet’s process, I found myself wondering about how specific his vision for his artwork was. Did he have an image in his mind and then work to create it on his canvas? Or did he have something a bit less fixed in mind, like a feeling he wanted to convey? I love the idea that he had to move forward and backward to see if he was achieving his intended effect, but one thing that can be really hard in writing is knowing what effect you want to achieve so that you can determine whether or not you’re achieving it.

    What I like so much about that Annie Dillard quote is the sense that when we write, we might come to something that we didn’t quite realize we were moving toward, and even when we get there and find something that glimmers for us, it still won’t be clear precisely where we’re going with it, so we’ll have to continue on both boldly and fearfully. It isn’t a simple process, writing something and then asking whether or not it achieves our intended effect. Sometimes it does for the moment but then gets cut when we get to something that interests us more, and sometimes it doesn’t quite but we have to trust that it’s bringing us closer to something that will.

  5. Wow, Laurie, I love your insight. Especially this: “…when we write, we might come to something that we didn’t quite realize we were moving toward…” And this: “Sometimes it does for the moment but then gets cut when we get to something that interests us more, and sometimes it doesn’t quite but we have to trust that it’s bringing us closer to something that will.” It might be the trust that I was lacking. But these thoughtful comments are giving me motivation to tackle it again, but slant ;)

  6. Pingback: My Writing Process | Laura Sibson·

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