Gang Aft Agley: Micro-Sabbatical Wrap Up
So, the micro-sabbatical was a good idea and totally, wholly worth the planning, effort, work and (some) trouble, but like the best-laid plans, it didn't deliver everything it promised when it was being conceived in my head.
For one, you may have noticed -- and been grateful for -- a conspicuous absence of blog posts, right after I'd written something like, "lookout, I'm gonna blow up your feed," or whatever. It turned out that it took me far, far too long to write that first/only blog post of the micro-sabbatical -- like, about two hours -- and that's probably because I haven't written in the blog for a long time and it always takes me a while to get back into the rhythm of the thing, and writing prose. So, when I'd spent a good part of my precious kid-free, solitary-in-the-house time writing about writing the verse play but not actually working on the play itself, I decided that blog posts were not as beneficial when you're working with a hyper-constrained deadline. So, naturally, the first rule of micro-sabbaticals is:
- Blog posts or journal entries should be kept to a minimum. Only write them if you think you need to clear your head/talk through a problem with the internet/universe. They're probably more useful as bookends to the whole experience.
Because, really, it WAS useful sitting down and writing about what I planned to do. Again, external accountability was a motivator, but having a chance to kind of summarize everything and take a big-picture look at the next four days was helpful before I dug in.
So. To begin the digging in, I read my play (the "complete" first act). Then I began a new treatment. The play has changed so drastically from when I wrote my first treatment, and for the better -- but the act of writing the new treatment made it clear that there's still lots of work to be done on the first act.
Old me would have found this depressing. (Well, old me is this me as I'm in year forty -- um, former me? Christ, it's early. Where's my coffee?) Anyway. Me-of-a-couple-of-months-ago may have found this a disheartening revelation. Me-of-the-beginning-of-the-month was actually kinda jazzed by it -- because even if the first act needs some fleshing out, it's a solid first act. It has a beginning-middle-end. Plot: check. There's one scene that's kind of expository and needs to be edited/reworked, but for the most part, the characters engage purposefully. Dialogue: check; character development: double check. And there are moments in the verse I kind of like, of which I'm fairly proud, where the poetry is doing the thing the poetry is supposed to do. Ultimate aim of this crazy project: Thank-the-fuckin-lord-check.
I ended the summary of each scene with bullet notes in red that caught my ideas, at this point, for revision. Sometimes I also inserted, with red text, sentences inside the summaries to indicate specific places where revision needed to take place. The big difference between old-Sarah-working-on-the-play and this-Sarah-working-on-the-play is that old-Sarah would have begun immediately reworking the first act once she saw all these red-light moments on the screen. Because, if I'm honest, old-Sarah didn't have much of a play to work with, so she worked with what she had. If there was anything good about 2016, (for me, where my writing is concerned), it's that even if I'm not totally sure about where the play will culminate, I am far more certain about where it's going to go in Act II.
Moving from lyric to plot is hard, man. I didn't have as much trouble doing this when I wrote the fairy tale poem, and that's something I thought about during the micro-sabbatical. Which brings me to another rule:
- Thinking is part of writing, and thinking only happens when you give yourself space -- quiet, alone space. This is where the revelations and epiphanies about your work occur. So even if you're not generating material, time spent mulling over problems (even while, say, folding your family's laundry) is valuable time. Don't discount it.
My revelation or epiphany about my play had to do with its progress, which I've lamented since, oh, maybe year two of this project. But something shifted during the tiny, cramped four days of this at-home writing residency, and I decided to stop beating myself up and expecting this to be finished anytime soon.
Because it's not like any of the other animals I've worked with before. It's not a single lyric poem: the bulk of it isn't going to come to me in one sitting and then gradually be revised and refined over the course of days, weeks, or months. Neither is it a play in prose: again, dialogue between characters isn't going to come lightning-strike fast when I'm writing those conversations in meter. My first thought was that it was kind of like a novel -- and many authors take years to finish their first novels. Sometimes decades. Why not give myself the same kind of space? But then I remembered that A.P., my incredibly prolific office mate, finished his novel in a few months. Also, significantly, he did it while on a sabbatical.
I don't want to be dismissive of a regular writing practice. I think that the ritual of getting up early and writing a little bit each day IS incredibly valuable, not just for the creation of the work but for my psychological well-being. I need that time, alone and without anyone else in the house stirring, to write and think simply because it makes me feel better, less crazy and frenetic.
But also I realize more clearly that I need to regularly schedule these micro-sabbaticals or mini at-home writing residencies, whatever the fuck I need to call them, throughout each year. I need days, consecutive days, where my only goals have to do with writing the play, for several hours at a time, every day. That's what a project like this requires. Single poems or even single poems that are part of a larger sequence don't require this kind of time. I'm going to make some progress, sure, with my 45 minutes in the morning that I can regularly devote to writing. But the real work, the real progress, is going to come only when I have those larger spaces of time.
So. Spring Recess? That's the next section of time where the kids will be in school (our spring breaks do not align) and I'll have the house to myself. I won't schedule anything else, I won't make big elaborate plans for work-related projects or fixing up our house -- I'll just put kids on the bus and then sit down to write. And we'll see what happens.
Maybe a finished Act II will be what happens. That would be nice, wouldn't it?
But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,In proving foresight may be vain:The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ MenGang aft agley,An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,For promis’d joy! (Robert Burns, "To a Mouse," 1785)