#366: Necessarily Boring

Photo wall in Abraham Lincoln Book Shop. Lincoln and other presidents. Hung on beige mesh grid.
River West, Chicago, IL (2017)

A phone chat with my editor this week. And last night I went to a poetry event at a favorite new bookstore, and saw a couple of friends and literary crushes read. Other than that, a boring week writing-wise. But boring in a good way – necessarily boring. It means I’ve been sticking mostly to my routine, reading, revising, printing, typing, mornings and some afternoons, in hourlong blocks.

I say “mostly” because there are days when I start writing a little later, or end a little earlier. It’s usually because of some problem I have to work through, some momentary knot of uncertainty about whether it can be worked through, and how the solution might land. It’s then that I have to remind myself to be boring with my routine. To stick to my script, and keep stuffing the pickle jar for my subconscious mind. Let time and biology do its work.

Back in 2017 when I was on tour in Chicago for See You in the Cosmos, I was a week behind George Saunders, who’d rolled through for Lincoln in the Bardo. He’d had the same baseball-loving author escort, and done an event at the same Abraham Lincoln bookstore (there’s only the one – but still!) I’d felt, in a way, like a temporal shadow. An echo.

I felt that feeling again reading this update in Mr. Saunders’ Story Club substack, about copyediting his forthcoming collection, Liberation Day:

It’s interesting, as I enact this (lovely) cycle again, of going from “No ongoing book + no idea” to “I have a (mostly) final product” - it strikes me that I will likely be somewhere in this cycle for the rest of my life. That is, there will never come a time when I’m totally satisfied, which means that I will always be feeling some sort of slight artistic anxiety or dissatisfaction. (“When will I get an idea? Will the book be good? Will people like it? Ah, crap, now I need a new idea.” And so on.)

So, whatever pleasure there is in writing has to be in that process itself somewhere - in there with the anxiety and worry, maybe even somehow manifesting as an enjoyment of that anxiety and worry. Learning to, you know, smile over at them, like, “Ah, hello old friends. Feeling you is how I know I’m still alive and working, I guess.”

I’m not quite there yet. Both emotionally and process-wise. But I’ll try to be, even if it takes me longer than a week.