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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Monday, September 19, 2005

pacing myself

My fantasy of productivity has me writing in the afternoon as well as in the morning. I don't think I could write more prose in the afternoon (assuming I wrote any in the morning), but I like to think that I could work on the notes for the next chapter. That way, in a perfect world, the next chapter would be ready to roll by the time I finished drafting the current chapter.

I think I have made this fantasy real on two or three occasions--that is, on two or three particular days. That's it. Does this mean I don't like having my fantasies realized? Maybe. Fantasies are potent because they're not realized, or should I say while they're not realized. But really, I don't like working that hard. I'll put up with it--hard work, that is--reluctantly, for pay. But when I'm doing what I enjoy, I want to enjoy it. As far as possible, I want my audience to read the product of a pleasurable undertaking.

As pleasurable as possible, that is. My role models as creators: the designer-builders of the Great Pyramid at Giza. How many times did they wake up facing serious problems? How many times did they wish they were doing something else with their lives? I'm guessing it was at least sometimes. No matter how advanced the civilization that raised that pyramid, it was a demanding, time-consuming task. The people doing it had to stay true to the vast vision that gave birth to the project. Perhaps some of them died while it was still in progress. At some point, early, in the beginning, they committed themselves to the vision, and more than likely they had to recommit themselves to it when the going got tough.

Or another image: running. I remember being coached by our grade 9 PE teacher Mr. O'Neill about running long distance (we were being sent out on the infamous "two-and-a-quarter": i.e., a two-and-a-quarter-mile jog over the mountainside of North Vancouver). You have to pace yourself at a speed you can maintain for the whole distance. No use burning yourself up in a sprint for half a mile; there's still plenty of hilly streets before you.

That's how I feel about The Mission. No use burning myself up sprinting for a portion of the way. A book that's even 90% finished is no good. According to my spreadsheet I'm 36% of the way through. It's good--but I've still got most of it in front of me.

I just went out running my errands: mailing three letters and buying stamps. The first part of the run was all uphill to 15th Street. I'd eaten too much for lunch (leftover beef-rib cassoulet--yum!), and so felt I was carrying a loaded newspaper-sack on my front: the dead weight of my meal. Run, you greedy pig! I thought. Move your sessile, overfed carcass up this hill!

How awful. And yet, as I lurched, panting, on to 15th Street, I felt some sense of psychological accomplishment, even though physically I felt tired and heavy and out of breath. I dropped off a letter at a lawyer's office, and continued my jog to Lonsdale, now on level ground, and felt much better--enjoyed the cool afternoon sun, enjoyed weaving among the pedestrians on the sidewalk.

The run home was a pleasure.

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