Well, a lot has happened to Ella, inside my feeble little mind. But not much has gotten written.
However, the experiment of trying to post a new chapter of Ella’s story once every two or three weeks has made a point: Writing fiction on deadline is extremely difficult.
I did have some copy that I’d drafted to post here. Yesterday I pulled up the file (after three days without my computer, four days of doing battle with Apple techs, six hours of driving back and forth to the Apple store…) and took a look at the current work in progress, figuring to finish off the episode and stick it up on Plain & Simple Press.
Looked at it. And looked at it.
And thought holy shit but this stuff is awful!
Yes. Awful. Full of clichés. Full of mystifications. Full of amateurisms — the “Tom said swiftly” kind of bêtises committed by beginning writers who have no ear for language and no skill with putting language on paper. Or in little glowing lights in the Internet.
Seriously: I couldn’t believe I’d written that stuff.
So out it goes. When I get a few minutes, I’ll have to try to write that scene in grown-up terms. But no such minutes are in sight: In half an hour I have to start driving again: 45 minutes to the dermatologist’s office; then however long it takes to carve the current growths off my sun-scorched body; then 45 minutes plus however long it takes to stop at a Home Depot to pick up a needed tool. Probably about three hours excised from the day…and three hours’ worth of energy and patience excised from my mental state. Will I rewrite that scene today? Probably not. I haven’t eaten. I haven’t taken the dog for a walk. I haven’t done battle with DropBox trying to get it back online after the Apple techs in Scottsdale dorked it up. I haven’t written a Funny about Money post. And most of all, most urgently of all, I haven’t done one lick of work over the past several days on the indexing project that I should be almost done with by now.
Therein lies the problem: life is one interruption after another. And writing does not lend itself to interruption. Not well, anyway.
And therein lies another question: How did prominent 19th-century writers, like Twain and Poe and Dickens, manage to crank out serialized novel after serialized novel, sending along monthly installments to their customer periodicals on a regular basis?
Well, in the first place I expect Mark Twain was one hell of a lot better writer than I am.
Second, of course, we can imagine that life was slower-paced in the late 1800s than it is today. At least for reasonably affluent men, it would have been. If you didn’t have to work as a laborer, you wouldn’t have had anything like as many distractions and interruptions as we do. Today, distraction and interruption and hassle are part of our dreadfui, gestalt existence. Much of the time you can’t even complete a thought, much less sit down and focus on creating an imaginary world full of imaginary characters and putting it on paper.
I don’t believe that was true for women. Unless a woman or her family was pretty affluent, her work was very much more demanding and very much more time-consuming than a moderately affluent man’s work. Housework itself was laborious, and with no truly effective way to avoid a succession of pregnancies, most women would find their time and their creativity absorbed by child care.
Male or female, a 19th-century writer would not have had to resist the constant, unceasing distraction of the Internet. Mail came once a day — if that often. It did not bleep you or blip you every few minutes with urgent announcements of its presence. News was delivered to you in print packets called “newspapers,” which you usually read over breakfast. It did not lurk in an infinite number of websites tempting you to take a break and cruise on over to the latest lurid report or the latest outrage in national politics. or the latest sweet or Facebook blat. It did not interrupt what you are doing right this minute to announce ROYAL PALM BLOCK WATCH: COMMUNITY GARDEN GRAND OPENING!!!!!
Telephones were largely absent; after they were invented, they did not ring a dozen times a day (literally: that is the case here, even with NoMoRobo engaged) to bring you the latest scam and spam.
In the absence of cars, errands were either delegated to the woman or to a servant or bunched together so that you didn’t have to run out almost every day to get this or that item or perform this or that chore.
Thus you could have maintained your focus for quite some time without distraction.
If my phone rings only twice in a given day, that is a good day. Most days, my concentration is broken by ten or twelve scamming robocalls. NoMoRobo does block them, but not without letting the first ring jangle me out of whatever reverie I happen to be engaged in.
It’s almost impossible for me to focus on what I’m doing without my attention wandering off to the news of the day (or the minute).
We have, in a word, so much maddening distraction that it is almost impossible to focus on an optional activity that requires sustained attention.
Speaking of the which, now I must get up and start driving, driving, driving…
And so, to steal a catch-term from Mr. Pepys, away!