Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ah, Hell.

I'm supposed to be writing an article for the Horn Book on translation. It's due to Arthur, my cowriter, tomorrow. And I am experiencing complete oh-my-lord-this-matters writing-brain freeze.

Actually I have already written my shitty first draft (to use the Anne Lamott phrase) and there are lots of good ideas in it. But trying to express those in smooth prose I'm proud of? Impossible. And it's 12:13 a.m.

12:14 a.m.

12:15 a.m.

This is why guys I like never call me back, by the way: The moment it matters, I get self-conscious and become a chattering icicle in eyeglasses. (Ten points to the first reader who identifies the reference.) And why I haven't been able to work on the Bad Novel in the last month: too damn nervous to write, because the vague intimations of Goodness in it terrified me. And also why I am swearing a lot in this post, because as everyone knows bad language is better than no language at all.

Can't I please, please edit someone else's writing instead? I'll send you all my thoughts on translation and you can write them for me, then I'll go over them and we'll have something great? Thanks.

12:22. I should stop whining and just get down to it. At moments like this I always remember the lovely first sonnet from Astrophil and Stella, which I studied in English Lit I long ago:

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she (dear She) might take some pleasure of my pain:
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain;
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe,
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain:
Oft turning others' leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burn'd brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Invention's stay,
Invention, Nature's child, fled step-dame Study's blows,
And others' feet still seem'd but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite--
"Fool," said my Muse to me, "look in thy heart and write."

Or the twenty-first century version: "'Fool,' said my Muse to me, 'post to thy blog and write.'"

Here goes.


  1. Well first of all, little punkin, you need to get some sleep. Excuse me while I put on my apron, climb up on a soapbox and wave my wooden mom spoon around in the air but it's what I do... I’ve been an art director for a long time and it’s compulsive, like being a sheep dog or something…

    Isn't "perfect" the most squelchy word in the world? Doesn't it suck the living juice out of anything that you want to create? You see the picture clear as can be but it's like your hand can't keep up with your mind. So we creatives must be sneaky. We must creep up on the thing we are trying to capture with all the stealth using every cheap trick we can muster.

    You have a good outline? Check! Awesome! Good start!

    What are your important points? Write the key words down on a note pad. This is your focus. A + B + whatever = conclusion. Pad, pad, trim trim.

    How can you rephrase the parts that seem boring or flat?

    Okay.... get some sleep. It’s part of the process. Get up and make coffee. (Coffee = friend) In the morning your brain will have had time to ponder it all and you will have fresh ideas, all green and perky from your subconscious. A trick I use is looking at a drawing in the mirror. Sleep is your mirror. It will give you a refreshed point of view.

    About the Bad Novel… how does the saying go? “Everyone has a great American novel inside them and most of the time it should stay there.” But yours just might, I suspect, have, I don’t know, like you said… “Goodness”. Why? You read, You know the sweet stuff when you smell it. Words are your friend. But you have to let your baby be a baby, even though you suspect that it might be gifted. You can’t expect it to spring out, like Athena, full grown.

    As for translation… hmmm…. interesting topic. “El que habla dos idiomas, tiene dos almas.” He who speaks two languages, has two souls.

    You speak two languages, one as a reader and another as a writer. Be patient with yourself.

    Best thoughts,


  2. Oh poor you. "Great with child to speak" -- love it. And pushing it out is *almost* as painful sometimes (and the process can last a lot longer...)

    I feel for you particularly as I was struggling with the (nearly last, I hope) draft of what I'm working on now, stumped for solutions and wishing for an editor at my elbow (should just pick up the phone, I guess, and I will, eventually).

    I'm sure it ended up being terrific anyway -- I hope you got some sleep!

    -- Kate

  3. Oh, I can so relate, however I've yet to be under deadline...oh the pressure. Why can't it be easier?

    I've seen you speak in front of a crowd of people and be smart, poised, clever, can do this and it will sparkle. There is no such thing as perfection. Your instincts are good, push the inner critic aside, enjoy the process.
    I hope you get some good rest,
    Angela Fox

  4. oh, Cheryl...

    You would manage to incorporate references to Anne Lamott, Sir Philip Sidney, and Dorothy L. Sayers, even as you complain about your debilitating writer's block.

  5. Ah, Nadia -- I thought you'd be the one to catch the Wimsey reference. :-)