• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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We Don’t Need No Education

I hit a wall. I was going about my happy little revising way as if I were a haircutter with a sharp pair of scissors. Wisps of hair fell to the floor. The girl in the chair was smiling when she so often cries. And then it happened. Page 78. Page seventy-fucking-eight. I’d go back five, ten, fifteen pages all in a running start to get over Page 78. But I kept leaping into oblivion or crashing like the guy in Temple Run. So, I did the only thing I knew how to do. A fresh set of  105 index cards up on the wall.

Progress or procrastination?

35 Responses

  1. Procrastination. I took me two hours, one pair of borrowed clippers, two pairs of scissors, and a half-hour of cleanup in order to render my German Angora rabbit comfortable in the summer heat this afternoon.

    Key to the process: pop in a movie you love, sit back, and commit to the disgusting and tedious nature of the task. I’d love to say that works with writing as well, but it’s more effective when shearing rabbits of their poo-matted hair.

  2. I agree with Jess. You need to PAUSE. Drown yourself in movies and good books. An idea will deliver itself unto you.

    I was watching a Masterpiece Mystery of one of Agatha Christie’s the other night, and she’s just do damn good. Suddenly, watching the show, I figured out a new subplot for the next RABBI’S MOTHER. Unfortunately, there are times when you simply can’t push on through.

    That’s when you pause and take stuff in, fill yourself, and wait. (This has a lot to do with Kabbalah, actually….)

  3. Progress. Rock, paper, scissors. The wall will come down if you chip away at it with a masonry hammer, but it will take more time than with a jack hammer. And stay away from the wrecking ball. Nah, what the fuck, use the wrecking ball and stay clear of the dust.

  4. All I know is, I’ve had a major bruise since chapter twenty-seven, trying to batter this bad boy down with my forehead.

    Turned out, I had to tunnel underneath the wall a bit and come up further on.

    Or at least I hope so—for all I know right now, I’ve made my way back into the exercise yard.

  5. Definitely progress. What else can 105 fresh index cards be?

  6. When you’re working it’s not procrastination. When you’re working it’s whatever it takes. Whatever it takes. That’s what it takes and that’s what it gets.

    What’s work? That’s one of the great things–or mixed blessings–about being a writer. It’s all work. Hot-hoppin’-motherfuck, it’s all work. Welcome to the priesthood.

    As for progress… progress? We don’t need no stinkin’ progress. It doesn’t exist. It’s a myth. A lie. We live in the desert. We scrape the needles off nopales and eat the fleshy pads and the dried locusts and get our water from small puddles in the shadows of the rocks while every day is the same as the one before and the one that will come and we do our work. We do our work. That’s our progress.

  7. I believe that a good cry will take care of just about anything. I keep a supply of tearjerker movies handy for that purpose. The Notebook always does a fine job for me.

  8. My characters have become so boring. I think I need a meteor or a vampire.

  9. Both. But what about that new book on the benefits of procrastination? http://www.amazon.com/The-Upside-Irrationality-Unexpected-Benefits/dp/0061995037

    It’s a weave, like all art. The pausing, the going, the toggling back and forth.

    Go Betsy!

  10. Not progress. Not procrastination.

  11. Progress or procrastination – it is neither my dear. Here is the solution, it works every single time.

    Eat meat. I’m serious, you and John, go have a steak dinner. Tell John what you need, in order to become unstuck, is a huge piece of meat. Rare, steak fries, Caesar salad, a few glasses of wine, and dessert.

    Dessert is very important; it’s the extra your mind and body needs because it’s something your mind and body DON’T need. Take a walk, hold hands and guess what page 78 will open itself to you like a blossom for a bee.

    Burp, belch…feels good huh.

  12. It’s all progress.

    I agree with Wry above about the eating part. If that’s not enough, toss in a few old episodes of ER. I know nothing makes me feel better than Clooney in his bad boy ER days.

  13. From what I can tell, I agree with Tetman: “When you’re working it’s not procrastination.” Even choosing a diversion isn’t necessarily procrastinating–it depends on your purpose. I’d guess that Betsy knows by now what kind of different tactic(s) to try when the usual ones don’t pay off, so I won’t presume to offer anything else.

  14. And thank you, Betsy, for sharing it with us. We appreciate it.

  15. God help me, I love the P-words. I don’t know which it is. I know that sometimes you can stare at the damn thing until it crosses your eyes and your brain. Let someone else look at it. Let them begin on 75 and read to 80, then discuss it. If it sticks out like Janet Jackson’s nipple, fix it.

  16. The idea of 105 index cards on the wall to keep things straight scares the shit out of me.

    Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, GIRLS OF A TENDER AGE, (great writer BTW) told me that with one of her books she had to sort by steps, she laid out the pages on the stairs, moving them up or down until the order made sense. I have nine foot ceilings, 14 steps, lower ceilings and I’d be screwed.

    I tried post-its once, different colors different characters or scenes. My wall looked like a hot-pink, lime-green and yellow very scaly fish.

  17. I have no idea. But it does make me feel better about me. So you’ve got that going for you.

  18. Can you recite page 78? If you can read it without looking at the page, just step away. Forget the index cards. What does page 79 look like? It’s like the SAT. Skip the crap question that freaks you out and come back to it later. Move on. Break up with page 78. Stop taking its calls. When you can vaguely recall its face with a hint of nostalgia and barely any anxiety, then you can do page 78 some justice. But right now, it sounds like you and page 78 are in the middle of a bad romance. You’re a great writer. Don’t listen to page 78.

  19. As per writing fiction, anything other than tapping the keyboard or reading are procrastination for me. I imagine screenwriting is different though. Marveling at Newsroom last night, I kept wondering how the hell Aaron Sorkin does it, keeps all those characters in his head and quipping simultaneously. I can’t imagine producing a script without an organizing tool like notecards. Still the best book I’ve ever read on craft or process period is Ondaajte’s “The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film.” Has helped me reboot my writing many times.

  20. Go for a run, and if you don’t run, go for a long walk, the kind that makes you break a sweat. We’ve “talked” about this before on a different post, a few months back and I wish I could recollect the question you posed then, but I know this was the answer from a couple folks. All of the above is great advice, but you have to do what works for you, and maybe it’s something written here by one of the others, but what has always, and I mean always worked for me is to go for a run. (and there’s scientific proof behind it)


    My own example…in my second book, THE REDEMPTION OF TRUITT AMES, I was stuck on what his redemption was supposed to be…I had written it five different ways and nothing struck me as “right.” I went on a run without the intention of solving this problem…it kind of just floated into my head. a eureka! moment. I knew it was the answer, it “felt” right. Besides, you know when it’s right if weeks later, that idea still strikes you as being on track with the story. The funny thing is, once I had resolved that, I couldn’t type fast enough, it removed other blocks I was having as well…

    • Jonah Lehrer talks about something similar in his book–using diversions/going and exercising/doing something unrelated, to help unstick creativity.

      But then again, we can’t trust Jonah Lehrer anymore, can we?

      Still, I agree.

  21. Index cards & narrative angst?
    Progress, for sure.

  22. Well, it beats hell out of banging your head against the wall until it’s a bloody mess. It’s progress, absolutely. Isn’t there some saying or some such that sometimes you have to take a few steps back to be able to go forward again?
    Of course the easy and flip answer is to say Fuckit just skip the damn thing, do a flanking movement and go around it.
    In keeping with the military motif you can adopt Sun Tzu’s dictum that when you face an enemy who commands a position, retreat until you have the advantage, then attack. Or, as Napolean liked to say and as Patton took to heart: l’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!
    Don’t let 78 get the high ground. After all, that RPM went out of style long ago. Kick it’s ass.

  23. Hope it’s just logistics and not a motivational or emotional issue. Sounds as if you need to have a talk with your characters, in any case. Maybe let the offending character(s) vent (offstage, at first)? Or throw an impromtu “opposite day” on that page, or toss in something that at first seems incongruent?

    When I’m really stuck, I get all outrageous and sarcastic on the page. Sometimes my characters like it and beg for more, and sometimes they shake their heads and say, “No, asshole, THIS is what we need.”

    Fully expect you to break through into haircutting rainbowland, soon.

  24. Progress and procrastination– both– and both are needed to finish– anything.

  25. […] Betsy writes about organizing her writing with index cards. A poet (can’t remember who, sorry) talks about laying her poems out on a conference table and putting them in a different order when trying to structure a book. Wry Writer, in Betsy’s comments, tells the story of Mary-Ann Tirone Smith who laid her pages on the stairs to reorganize. […]

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