Writing a Novel: Diary 3/26 to 3/30/21

Copyright (text only) 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Dostoyevsky: Notes from Underground

Note: This post is rated PG-13 due to language.

{3/26/21}  Weight 211.8 at 7:00 am.  Lowest weight in a week; I had a fasting blood draw scheduled for 10:30 am yesterday, so breakfast was much delayed, and I kept my other eating down to a dull roar, so this good result.

Now, what rule will I commit to regarding writing?  A chapter a month, presumably, and some hours each morning by the Lamour method.  In the past I’ve modified the method to allow me to escape after two unproductive hours.  But what about breakfast?  If I aim to work up to four hours at a stretch, I don’t see me waiting for breakfast all that time.  Yet if I eat my normal breakfast, i.e., a large meal, I’ll likely be sleepy.  It seems that I must change my normal breakfast; I’ll try just a banana until I’ve spent two hours on writing, then have the rest if I want it.  I really don’t see me writing for four hours straight.  Perhaps write a while, rewrite a while, do a little research…this speculation is not going to lead to any great insight, it’s more like I’m delaying.

But here’s a conclusion from last night: I should not think of my effort as “writing a novel,” because I don’t know how to do that, and the thought makes me anxious.  Rather, my old idea was to “accumulate scenes.”  I can write scenes.  It’s been five years since I wrote fiction, and I have aged much since then.  I am rusty and I can feel it.  Why did I stop writing fiction?  There is nothing to do but try.

So two and a half hours to write again a page and a half (but did I start from the page I wrote yesterday?  then I wrote only half a page?).  It wasn’t quite a rewrite, since I didn’t start with the existing text, but rather recreated it; the first meeting of Fynn and his neighbors (beginning at the beginning).  I am suppressing the urge to check Twitter, etc., but I just finished eating a banana and am ready for more breakfast.

Last night I finished reading Pluche: The Love of Art, a mostly not very exciting and sometimes quite uninteresting “modern novel” (i.e., nothing happens) that has occasional bits worth copying.  See Collected Quotations for publication data and more quotes; these two I posted to Twitter:

Quoting Victor Hugo:  “Puns are the droppings of the mind as it flies.”  p. 141.

“Very few men see themselves in their true light. For most people this is of no importance; for an artist it is a catastrophe.” p. 151.

Also:  “Delacroix said: ‘To finish demands a heart of steel.’” p. 257.  I have often had problems finishing anything longer than a short story.

Dostoevsky starts his Notes From Underground thus, in part: “The author of the diary and the diary itself are, of course, imaginary. Nevertheless it is clear that such persons as the writer of these notes not only may, but positively must, exist in our society, when we consider the circumstances in the midst of which our society is formed. I have tried to expose to the view of the public more distinctly than is commonly done, one of the characters of the recent past. He is one of the representatives of a generation still living.”  Fyodor Dostoevsky:  Notes from Underground, The Double, and Other Stories, Constance Garnett (tr.), Deborah A. Martinsen (ed.), Barnes & Noble Classics, New York, 2003, p. 205.

I could quote this at the start of TLC; I may yet.  Notes is written in the first person; Crime and Punishment, I believe, is not.  The first-person POV did not give me any qualms in the little that I wrote this morning.

Yesterday I also started reading Kate Atkinson:  Transcription, another WWII effort, I’d guess trying to recapture the brilliant success (my opinion) of her Life After Life.  So far I’m finding it uninvolving, though to start it with her heroine lying broken in the street after being hit by a car is daring enough.  Not first-person.

I have considered starting with Fynn’s last moments, making the whole novel a retrospective or flashback, but I see no reason to do this except as a hook, which seems cheaply manipulative.  What can I say except that I don’t like it?  If I remember correctly, Atkinson did a similar thing with Life, starting with her heroine meeting Hitler.  But I’m not sure I remember correctly; given that her heroine in that book dies immediately after birth (or is stillborn), it would seem unnecessary, unlike the otherwise slow start of Transcription.  Such a device changes the whole feel of the book.  Well, if “I don’t like it,” what more is to be said?

I think my title provides a good hook, and introducing Apple on the first page follows up on that:  “Is she the L?”  If I start with Fynn dying, it becomes a treatise on suicide rather than a story of suspense and character—at least in part.  Bah.

{3/27/21}  Weight 212.2 at 6:30 am.

7:45, and all I’ve done is Twitter.  I need to leave by 9:30 for the Hemlock Club.

Starting rereading Lolita last night.  I suppose that I need to comment on my initial reimpressions.  I found it more interesting and well-written than my previous opinion had led me to expect; that is, it’s a book of which I’ve never previously managed to read every word, because it bored me unmercifully.  Humbert’s initial impression of L is all about the love of his childhood; he’s seeing double—it’s almost as though he can’t see her…or is that just what I want to say and not what I believe?  He compares her to Annabel, point-by-point, and says that they’re identical.

Second-guessing myself is a solid habit I have; does it differ from wanting to be truthful?  How can I consider myself “truthful” without reconsidering and criticizing everything I say?

In looking up “criticize” just now, I see that “cringle” is a loop or ring in the edge of a sail, through which a line can be run—a fact not worth repeating here.

I really feel like kicking myself this morning, and I suspect it’s only in part because I’ve done no work and will not be doing any before I leave, ninety minutes from now.  In other words, it’s “just a mood,” and moods are not to be taken seriously!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Each exclamation point there could be a blow, trying to convince myself that “moods are not to be taken seriously.”  I’ll feel better after breakfast; I’ll also feel sleepy, probably.

Saturday:  the news is hardly worth looking at, at the best of times, but weekend news is almost always just a rehash of the week’s stories.

{3/28/21}  Weight 212.8 at 7:15 am.

I’m seventy-four years old—birthday yesterday.  I celebrated, if that’s the word for eating too many cookies, with Nog, Pablo, and Bernd at Raising Cain’s Chicken Fingers, a meeting of the Hemlock Club.

Received $1,000 deposit from Nordstrom!  The scam is now ancient history.

{3/29/21}  Weight 213.0 at 6:35 am.

Feeling very down and worthless this morning, but two things have broken that spell:  reading my blog post, “Meditation and Me: Diary 2/7 to 2/10/21,” and watching “Running Wild with Bear Grylls and Kate Winslet.”  Winslet comes across as natural and courageous; a takeaway from the show was, “There is no plan B.”  For me, there is no plan B to my plan A of writing.  Winslet, this mother of three and a top movie star, rappelled down a pretty terrifying mountain, ate a worm, was up before Bear, forward-rappelled down another cliff, and swam fifty yards to the pickup boat—and I’m afraid to try writing my novel that’s already 90% written?  And too lazy to wash dishes and do my pathetic little exercise?

The diary entry impressed me with its intelligence and perception; maybe my mental deterioration amounts to not very much.

The Hemlock Club meeting yesterday started with the arrival of Pablo, “welcomed back to the fold” after being barred from the previous meeting for bad behavior.  He wanted to buy chicken fingers, and did.  The meeting went well, with Nog arriving shortly after that.  Nog talked about seeing roadrunners and their intelligent behavior in apparently trying to lead him away from a nest.  He said that he has more will to live than the average person, and that he’s “crippled by compassion” and so doesn’t like to win, i.e., to beat others at the task at hand.  He also talked about the Facility for Animal Care and Treatment at CSUB and said I’d like it.  Bernd arrived; he told us that “corporatism is fascistic collectivism,” which I found obscure.  He and Nog talked over some local history and Nog talked about his “running a marathon” the day before and mentioned a pond “at the end of Venus Lane” and seeing “great white egrets”; sounds like a place I might visit.  He also read a bit on prayer from Pablo’s book, The Isaiah Effect and went on about rock circles and native Americans.  Bernd said he wanted to walk around the world.  Nog said, “The mother of God is inertia—she travels the universe,” which I also found obscure.  Bernd talked about entanglement, artificial intelligence, and that chimpanzees are “like human gangs,” which Nog seconded, and they were compared to bonobos, and “humans are halfway between those two species,” in reference to levels of aggression, I think.

I talked about the wooden puzzle box which I had brought to a previous HC meeting, which had been totally ignored by J and Pablo, to my astonishment at the time.  There was some discussion of “gorilla in the midst,” a well-known psychology demonstration, and I talked about Pablo and I discussing the novel Gideon, which in fact is titled Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson—another example of blindness due to inattention.  I talked about “the meaning of life” and how “meaning” requires a subject, i.e., that something must be meaningful to someone—it is not “meaningful in the abstract” or “objectively meaningful”; once you see that, you stop worrying about “the meaning of life,” or so I believe.  Nog said that “life is the only thing worth dying for.”  I talked about a dream in which I woke, then woke a second time.  Bernd mentioned vitiligo and how it affected his sister’s hair, and his own, and about Michael Jackson’s makeover.  There was more, but I think this covers the highlights pretty well.

{3/30/21}  Weight 212.6 at 7:00 am.

Prison Diary, 3/14/10:

I think Lamott’s book [Bird by Bird] has been helpful on two points: first drafts can be “shitty” (her word) but it’s still important to do them, and the “one-inch picture frame” idea of sitting down with a small idea to start writing from, to overcome the anxiety.

With these in hand, pushing the river doesn’t look either so difficult or so foolish as it once did: it’s such a little push.

Lamott’s book, which I recall as having been nothing special, now seems quite good and important. Taking all the pressure off the first draft seems like a very good idea indeed.

Indeed!  Dictating this yesterday, reading my words of eleven years ago, feeling my problem of this moment addressed, came as a blessed relief.  We’ll see if it translates into new words, and hopefully, a new habit of consistent work.  Because Lamour’s method, easy as it seems, hasn’t worked—of course because I haven’t followed it.  It seems that even the thought of sitting for (only) two hours, “doing nothing,” is just about as intimidating as the thought of staring at a blank page (or whatever) for even an instant.  I don’t know why I’ve developed this phobia, and that’s not the important question; the important question is, can I now get some work done?

Another item, from 3/6/10:

My writing method is not “waiting for inspiration,” it’s “waiting for ripeness.” When I’ve decided what to do with a scene, then it gets written. That’s the theory, but the theory is phony, because I don’t know what’s going to happen until I write it. The events occur to me as I write. For instance, in writing about Miri’s return to Ising, I didn’t know a single thing that would happen until after I started writing it…

“Miri returns to Ising” is a very small picture in a frame; it led to new pages and a scene I was satisfied with, in a morning’s work.  What’s my small picture this morning?  Apple asks Fynn, “What books do you have?”  He says that they’re still in boxes, and she volunteers to help him unpack, which they immediately go to his place to do.  Indeed, I’ve already begun.

So I wrote an easy page and ate breakfast, and now it’s 9:30.  Can I keep writing?  Push the scene?  Um…maybe.  But as this entry shows, dictating the Prison Diary is also important.  I want to do both, but I want more to do the new writing.  I’ll go back to that page and see if I can push the scene a bit further.

Did considerable work today, new text for TLC and eight pages of dictation, plus assembling paragraphs for extension of my blog post “Notes of a Novelist” (which I had forgotten existed).  I’d rather it had been more new writing, but I’ll take it.  Also washed dishes, and thinking about exercising.

Last night I watched part 1 of The Stand, an old miniseries.  Tonight I got about halfway through part 2 before turning it off in complete disgust.  I was fast-forwarding through scenes, saying, “There’s nothing these people can say to each other that I want to hear.”  Miserably unappealing characters, stupid behaviors, ridiculous scientists, tedious dream sequences, mumbo-jumbo.

This comes after the mediocre Final Destination and the despicable and disgusting Becky.  I have four more Final Destinations to watch, if I want to see the, I presume, same movie over and over again, like with Paranormal Activity.  This is what happens when you buy DVDs of things you know nothing about.

A movie called Master was watchable enough, but it amounted to nothing much, the ending very flat.  A ne’er-do-well Joaquin Phoenix, brilliant as a pre-Joker joker, meets up with a cult rather like Dianetics/Scientology and falls in with them.  Philip Seymour Hoffman plays “Master.”  Meh.  I’ve seen too many movies.

Copyright 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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