I started reading A Moveable Feast last night and it has set my brain on fire. First because I’ve had an idea for a series of funny shorts or “episodes” about Hemingway and Fitzgerald and I’m finding them to be just the sort of characters I imagined, with plenty of pathos and brilliance to play upon. But also because the book is quite the remedy for writing procrastination. Reading about Hemingway’s writing habits is both inspiring and guilt-inducing.
Of course, the world is a different place today than it was in 1920’s Paris but the fundamentals of getting writing done are the same. Have a routine. Have a ritual. Work just long enough that you accomplish good work for the day but quit when things are at an interesting point, giving you an impetus to show up at the page the next day. Then shut down that part of your brain and go about the business of living – go get a racing sheet, go to the cafes, get some exercise, look for good books to read and have a meal.
It sounds easy and decadent in a way – ah, the life of a writer in Paris. But underneath it all I suspect that it was a bit of a grind and plagued with self-doubt. This was before Hemingway had published a novel and was writing “journalism,” as he called it, and short stories. He read Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and supposedly was consumed with admiration and jealousy, knowing that he must attempt the same in order to move forward in his writing.
One a tiny scale, I’m having some of the same writer’s predicament. I don’t believe in writer’s block but I do believe in unhealthy, pathological procrastination and that’s what I’ve been experiencing. I’m within 20 pages of finishing a second draft of a screenplay that I believe to be good and interesting but I’ve stalled out. Every day I resolve to sit down with it and then find other things to do. Oh, the kitchen sink needs scrubbing. Time for a bike ride… For weeks I’ve told myself that it’s OK; that my subconscious is simply doing some “behind-the-scenes” work and it will all become clear soon enough but that’s a bunch of bullshit. Nothing will work itself out unless I sit there and stare at it, writing and deleting until something starts to stick.
I don’t know why I do this. I suspect it has a lot to do with the fear of failure. I already know that was was in my head when I started out is not what’s on the page and that’s a hard thing to reconcile. Why can’t the two match up? But that’s simply another fact of writing or any creative endeavor. They never match up. Or very rarely. Or maybe a scene or a page does and that’s all you get.
Often I’m puzzled by why people continue to revere Hemingway. Some of his writing leaves me not exactly cold but certainly cool. But A Moveable Feast allows a glimpse of vulnerability not often associated with him. Yes, he would stare out at the street and wonder if his stories would ever sell. Yes, he struggled daily with writing. But the heroic thing he did, more than the boxing, deep-sea fishing and African safaris was to show up, day after day, and keeping after it because it was simply his purpose in life.
Watching: The Larry Sanders show – started at Season 1 (1992) and moving along through the 85 episodes! Will probably break for third season of Breaking Bad, which came out on DVD on Tuesday.
Doing: Making a big collage and also screen printing a t-shirt (which will soon be featured on Not Shallow as part of 99 Projects). Also, taking a kettlebell class at Four Gates in Minneapolis – a relatively new studio with great instructors and a laid-back attitude.
Anticipating: Excited to see Midnight in Paris, the new Woody Allen film and to eat at Wise Acre Eatery in South Mpls!