Betty Duffy

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Keeping Track of the Lasagna

The other day, as is often the case, my husband and I were both doing several things at once. Among those things, I had the job of putting a ready-made lasagna into a preheated oven for dinner. I preheated the oven and went about my work, only to come back an hour later to find the lasagna still sitting uncooked on top of the stove. It does no good to preheat the oven if you fail to insert the food, so I inserted the food and went back to work. An hour later, I remembered the food, which by now was overcooked.

You might ask in unison with my husband, “How hard is it to keep track of the lasagna?”

And the answer is that right now, I find keeping track of the lasagna next to impossible. I’ve had a busy week, which is unusual for me because I make a habit of keeping my calendar very clear. I’m a commitment-phobe and a last minute person, but apparently, a couple weeks ago I got crazy and did a bunch of long range planning that left me with about two meetings a day all week long. Unfortunately, thinking requires a modicum of leisure, which is a luxury I haven’t had lately…and so goes the lasagna, along with quite a few other things, like writing.

I’ve sat down several nights this week after the kids were in bed to write and found that I’ve had absolutely nothing to say besides, “I’m busy.” As things begin to slow down, it becomes clear that not only am I busy, I have entered a fallow period. Nothing’s happening in my brain, no seeds germinating, no ideas to hash out. The scales have tipped in the direction of action rather than thought.

But as they say, writers write, so I continue to go through the motions of sitting down to put pen to paper. The good thing about times like these is that I can look back on older pieces that never hit the mark and see them objectively, with the eyes of a critic or editor, rather than with the passionate conviction that inspired the first words on paper.

I feel liberated from my words. I’m free to rewrite them if necessary, or ignore them all together and read someone else’s words for a change.

When I’m in a creative period, or one in which I have a lot to say, I find editing a chore. And hence, my writing is hurried, overly emotional, and often lacking in qualities that make good writing, good writing.

I took a fiction writing class a couple years ago at a nearby university, and while I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not a fiction writer, I learned a few lessons in that class that are invaluable for any kind of writing. Editing is not just a verbal cleansing or a punctuation checkpoint. If I have the opportunity in my writing to use humor, metaphor, or anecdote, why would I not avail myself of those resources? And if something’s not working, no matter how attached I am to the turn of phrase, the joke, or metaphor, it must go.

It takes a clear head to make those decisions: joke needed here, but not that joke, metaphor, yes, but not one that has no bearing on the main idea. Which brings me back to the lasagna: apparently my head is clear, but not clear enough to cut the lasagna, so it’s staying in this post whether it works or not.


jenX67 said...

honestly - i remember spending 40 hours on a 500 word essay. those days are gone for at least 10 years.

Sharon Kieffer Steele said...

"The scales have tipped in the direction of action rather than thought."

Yes. Absolutely. I go to that place frequently. It is a safe, tidy land that is positively mind-numbing.

Another lovely post.

Emily said...

For being uninspired, you really had a great post on Monday.

Since you're already busy, will you take over some of my responsibilities? I think I'm going to follow your example and be commitmentphobic in Gulfport (but that's a campaign promise...)

Betty Duffy said...

Jen, I too remember spending incredible hours on writing, and often never finishing.

Sharon, it is a safe, tidy land. I'd love it if every third day or so could be that way. But then I'd have to plan, and keep track of my calendar, and that's exhausting.

Emily, Monday's post was a victim of that "lagtime" I told you about. I wrote most of it the week before and doctored it up to post in hindsight. But thank you.

It's too bad you live so far away, or I could offer to help and then weasel my way out of it when the date approached (would that qualify as a campaign promise?).