Traditionally, July is a braindead sort of month for me, but the world has turned upside down, and this July, I was filled with passion, creativity, and productivity. Part of that was out of necessity. As Company, my novel of a ghost and an imaginary friend, nears its publication date, and I knew I needed to buckle down and get it done. But part of my creativity may have been an odd reaction to the anxiety engulfing the outside world.
By the time June ended, the world outside my door was essentially back in shut-down mode, with cases of the Coronavirus rising in California and other parts of the country. The optimism that swept through May of America re-opening for business had given way to uncertainty and pessimism. We were back to square one, and in some ways worse. This caused a lot of anger. Everyone, it seemed, was either angry about having to wear face masks or angry at the people who refused to wear them. I started the month feeling paralyzed. Small tasks, like returning a library book, felt overwhelming.
Fortunately, I had poetry to help me through it. Toward the end of June, I had the sudden urge to read poetry, which I attributed to needing to edit Company. When I know I need to pay close attention to the prose (the ebb and flow of sentences; the choice of words; the way language affects the reader), I can use poetry to jump start my creativity. Poems are, after all, a showcase for language. So I “bought” a free book of poems on Amazon called “Growth” by Karin Cox, and signed up for the “Poem of the Day” for both Poets.org and The Poetry Foundation. As I read my daily poems, I was hit by the sudden urge to write poetry.
This did not come at an opportune time. I had about two months to piece together Company, and what I had was a beautiful mess. I had worked hard in May and June to re-write all the major scenes and emotions, and I had a vision in my head.
A vision which was not comprehensible to the reader. For example, sometimes I wrote a scene from multiple point of views, with contradictory information. Other times, I wrote pages of emotional expression and philosophical thought un-anchored by plot or setting. A few things I left blanks, with parentheses of (Note: Add setting) or (Note: Add reaction), letting me know to fill it in later. Other times, I just had too much material--20 page chapters that needed to be cut in half. Basically, it was the writing equivalent of having a messy desk; I knew where everything was, but no one else would be able to find a thing.
My task for July was to get everything organized. I had one month to go through 21 chapters. How was I going to do it? I didn’t know. Typically I’d go week by week, chapter by chapter, taking two weeks or more per chapter. I’d never done so much work so quickly. But I had two major advantages. First, thanks to having no day job, I was able to work everyday and during the best hours of the day (mornings). Second, I now had all the material at my disposal.
On top of all this, I decided to add poetry. At the start of July, I would sit outside at 8:30 on the gray patio furniture my sister-in-law had gifted me, reading poems out loud to the yipping dog, before loading up my computer and dumping a bunch of thoughts out that could very loosely be described as poetry. My “poems” were terrible, but I didn’t care. I needed to get out my very visceral reaction to my changing world.
As it turned out, poetry became a way of understanding and expressing some of the turmoil that has been rocking the world. Poets.org spent the month of July showcasing Black poets, which helped me understand a little more of the Black Lives Matters protests. (I struggle with politics which seems to lump people into social groups and symbols, but I do better with individuals expressing their frustrations in the form of art.) Despite my isolation, poetry kept me interacting with the world in my own way, and I felt more connected with others and with my ow feelings.
It did not last. By the time I finished with my poetry therapy session, I had a more solid grasp of how to handle organizing Company, and I was plowing full steam ahead. Initially, I did not knowing what to do, I tried to re-read everything I wrote. I got about a quarter of the way through, when I decided that I wanted to edit a chapter. I finished organizing it that day, and it set a precedent. One chapter a day. It seems doable, right?
Reorganizing a chapter sounds like it would involve a lot of cutting and pasting, and it had that, but more often than not, it also involved re-writing large sections of the chapter, if not the entire chapter. A typical day would have me going from 9:00 AM to about 2:00 PM, sometimes longer. While I realize that working for 5 hours a day does not sound impressive, writing requires intense concentration, and by the afternoon, my brain felt blown out. Sometimes I re-grouped in the evenings, to work on business stuff and play with other stories (Hazel and Saul), but other days, I was wiped out.
This tight schedule meant that I did not have too much time to mess around with whether or not what I’d written was any good; it was enough to know that it was done. It was important for me to set aside the chapter I wrote and not look at it for the rest of the day. My sense of judgement was destroyed; I could not look at my work with anything but a critical and perfectionist eye. It was better for me to rest and restore my energy, so that I’d be able to use my peak creative hours with maximum efficiency.
In the morning, before starting on a new chapter, I’d sometimes re-read the chapter I wrote the previous day. What I found was that, although my wording could be clumsy and redundant, the overall effect was pretty good. I think that focusing on what the chapter needed, rather than what was "good," produced better work. Usually when I think of something being “good,” I think of a beautiful piece of description, a clear image, or an elegant turn of phrase. When I think of what’s needed, I think about the story and how I can communicate it to the audience. My goal for July was the latter.
I reorganized the final chapter on Friday, July 31st, and I was left with a weird combination of pride, elation, exhaustion, and sadness. I had done exactly what I set out to do, and it was hard, but I had done it. I wanted to communicate just how big of an accomplishment that was, but I couldn’t find the words to explain it. At the same time I knew I wasn’t done with Company. I wasn't done with writing it, and I certainly wasn't done with the process of publication. That might be an even bigger challenge.
I have one month left.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.