Monday, August 17, 2009

The Creative Habit

I look exactly like Anne Sexton only not so leggy and without the cigarette.

This is my "week to write," meaning the kids are in daycare full time and I can leave scabby breakfast dishes on the table all day without repercussion (we artistes get a lot of leeway).
Like everyone else, I'm working on a novel. This is daunting in so many ways, but especially because I am already a proven literary failure. Years ago—maybe six now—I completed a novel. It was ok. It had its moments, but it wasn't going to take the literary world by storm, or inspire any movements, or get translated into Urdu. But, I had a fancy agent who sent it to fancy publishers and one very fancy and famous editor in New York liked my book and wanted to meet me.
I walked through the streets of Greenwich Village in a gritty windstorm to her office and then spent the entire meeting acting like a monosyllabic mouth-breather and trying to free tiny grains of sand from between my teeth. I think I said "That's cool" a lot. In parting she said, "Well, Samantha, I'm not going to publish your book, but I did like it quite a bit and I want to see whatever else you write."
It only went downhill from there. Rejection after rejection after rejection. Until there was no one left to reject me. And, here I am, living proof that your dreams do not necessarily come true. Or at least they don't come true in time for you to be a young literary phenom.
But, bootstraps and all that. Six years, two anthologies, and a set of twins later, I think I may have mustered the courage to have another go. Fifty-four pages down, 250 more to go. Too bad the fancy editor is no longer in the biz. I'm sure she's been waiting with bated breath.

Last night I started perusing Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, a book that has been on my nightstand as long as my last novel has been in a box in my garage. I believe in taking one's creative endeavors seriously and I thought she might have something righteous and helpful to offer. And she does. She's very tough and no nonsense. She says things like, "I hope you've been to the ballet and seen a dance company in action on stage. If you haven't, shame on you; that's like admitting you've never read a novel or strolled through a museum or heard a Beethoven symphony live. If you give me that much, we can work together." Luckily, I meet her standards and we can work together.
Except for page 26, where she is talking about distractions and how to get them out of the way. She writes, "I try to cut it all off. I want to place myself in a bubble of monomaniacal absorption where I am fully invested in the task at hand. As a result, I find I am often subtracting things from my life rather than adding them."
Ok, I get that. But what's weird is how resistant my three-year-old twins are to being ignored. Try as I might to achieve a state of monomaniacal absorption, there are still the lunches to pack, the breakfast to make, the socks to put on, and the dance moves to witness.
And here's my question for you: Motherhood and creative pursuits, how do you do it? Is it possible (without the full time cadre of nannies, I mean).

Sylvia Plath is NOT my model but I do sympathize


Petunia Face said...

What's worse than my three year old who won't be ignored is the internet always screaming my name, the siren call of time suck and more fun.

Please do tell if you find any answers.

Cheryl said...

I read somewhere that a successful writer and mother wrote her novels by getting into the habit of writing in small increments throughout the day, ten minutes here, a half hour there. And then, in between sitting at her desk, she'd be writing in her head. Not exactly Twyla Tharp's advice though.

krista said...

i haven't been able to figure it out yet. there must be a solution, but the free time i do have, all i want to do is sleep.

Simply Mel said...

It seems since my lil' crumb was born, I've been more creative in my thoughts and endeavors, but my time to really pursue them has been ZERO! I still believe in chasing my dreams even if it means burning the night hours and being mom during the day.

Your next 200 pages are going to flow, and your 'comeback' will be divine!

molly said...

Demanding children are the enemy of creative work, but so is laundry, twitter, facebook, surfing for that perfect pair of black boots, and trying to find cheap tickets for Thanksgiving travel.

I'm no model on finishing creative work in a timely fashion, but I do find I work best when I recognize and embrace when and how I work best (for me it's at night, when the house is quiet). I know someone with a just-turned 4-year old who is finishing a novel by writing 10-15 minutes each morning. That's all she has, so that's what she's using. I bow in humble admiration.

Thanks for the reminder about Twyla's book - I read it when it came out and I think it's time to dig it out of the bookcase again!

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