A couple months ago, we decided to start recording the ever-evolving process by which we've been wrestling a page or more of writing from every day of our lives. Having successfully documented, in very general terms, the last two years of our effort, we now want to capture a bit more closely the methods by which we are currently writing.
So, here we go!
At the end of every day, if we don't have the energy or mental awareness needed to crank out an entire journal entry, we make extensive notes. For us, this is not an optional task, it is a daily necessity. Though we've never tried to forgo the notes, I feel sure it would be nearly impossible to accurately write anything that would do our experiences justice without this step.
Note-taking is usually a stream-of-consciousness affair, with both of us piping up to offer our differing perspectives on the events of the day that we don't want forgotten. Spelling doesn't matter, nor does grammar, nor do complete sentences. The name of the game is to type fast enough to keep up with the onslaught of details and thoughts pouring out.
Here is a sample, a few raw lines from a page of notes about a difficult day we had in Vietnam. Due to the nature of our backdated publishing, this digital chicken scratch comes from an actual as-yet-to-be-written entry:
walk outside BEEEBEEEEPEPPEPEPJLkdsjaS:LDJFASKDFJL SUPER LOUD EVERYTHING IS SUPER LOUD AND THERE IS BEEPING AND CARS AND SCOOTERS GOING EVERY WHICH WAY AND AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH GET OUT OF MY FACE GET OUT GET OUT OF MY FACE ALL OF YOU FUCKERS WHY DONT YOU LEARN TO DRIVE THE RIGHT WAY
try to keep calm, bike off in search of ferry find ferry, get on lots of "hellos" stopped for coffee, don't have coffee. friendly guy gave us ice water, felt like a zoo animal on display, stopped for coffee again.
feel so inept because we can't say anything, language has never been this hard. even with guidebook, nobody understands us, tonal language, etc.
keep biking holy shit tiny road with scooters zooming and banana trees and kids bikingandchickensrunningandbasketweavingandsofreakingmuchgoingoooooonnnnn, lots of horns, lots of piercing beeps arrive in town, supposed to be nice, kind of a dirty town crap hotel, searching for other hotel
found hotel, pretty nice, no electricity,sound of loud generators everywhere. out to dinner, thank god it was a good one, so, end of the day, it's a sleepy day, rainy, dark, sort of bla, don't really want to be here, but at least we have clean sheets, a cool shower, and a big meal.
was afraid we were going to wander around for an hours, cobbling together a meal of street food when all we want is huge plates of starch and protein
When we're settled somewhere nice for a few days, and journaling becomes our top priority, we'll fire up our laptops, open a local copy of our GSDB, and survey the deluge of writing samples like this that await us.
We used to be just a few entries behind. Now, thanks to Mongolia, the list of daily notes is a mammoth hydra-like beast fifty entries strong that laughs in the face of any illusions we might have about quickly and easily completing the work before us.
Well over a year ago (though we can't pinpoint exactly when), I was delirious from lack of sleep, and feeling completely immobilized by the enormity of the task of turning our notes for what was probably an "easy" day, into real writing. I had intended on asking Tara to write some "blurbs" for me, but it came out "bloobs!" By the time we were done laughing, the word had been slated to become a daily part of our vernacular.
Bloobing is the separating of our notes into relevant chunks, and the early stage of forming our brain-dump mess into usable written material. It also involves importing our photos (an entirely automated process), and organizing the bite-sized sentences around them in a relatively logical, organized fashion.
Bloobing is what we do when inspiration just isn't striking, when we can't just sit down and miraculously have beautifully formed paragraphs emerge. We've found it an effective way to pretend we aren't doing the work of writing, while we're actually getting some writing done. Sometimes, in order to do the things we said we would do, we have to trick ourselves into it!
Here is a small example of Tara's efforts on the previous notes, with a few photos thrown in for fun:
I'm struggling with this place. I don't like it yet, but I'm trying not to totally write it off. I miss Cambodia and all of the friendly smiles.
This morning we start our day with some unfriendly ladies who barge into our room to start cleaning it. We are clearly not ready to leave, but they wave us goodbye, trying to usher us out. If I could speak Vietnamese, I'd say "dude, i'm not done yet, chill out, I need to get my things"
We get packed up and walk outside and immediately everything raises about fifty decibel levels. It's a zoo of beeping and cars and scooters driving every which way. I want to cover my ears and hide in the corner and yell "GET OUT OF MY FACE GET OUT GET OUT OF MY FACE".
As we bike, I'm really frustrated because of all the bicycles and scooters coming straight at me, in my lane. I know I'm the foreigner here, but but I want to shout at everyone and tell them to get in their own lane. It makes cycling really nervewracking and not enjoyable at all.
I try to keep calm as we bike off in search of a ferry to cross one of the many Mekong delta branches. We successfully find the ferry and buy tickets from a friendly rice-hat wearing lady.
We get on, along with hundreds of other people, who look like they're on their way to work and school.
As we chug across the water, a lady lifts her little toddler girl, and bends her like a jacknife, pressing the girl's back against her, crooking her arms under the girl's knees. Now, the little girl essentially squatting in mid air, the mom utters a "psssss, psssss, pssss" sound, until the girl starts peeing. On the floor of the boat. The pee trickles to the side and collects where the floor meets the wall. When she's done, the mom pulls up the girl's panties, sets her back on the scooter, and then we've landed on the other side of the narrow river and it's time to disembark.
There are so many hellos as we ride along, but this time it feels like we're on display. We stop for coffee at a coffeeshop, but they don't have any coffee, so we watch a highschool soccer match instead and awkwardly try to chat to a friendly guy who gives us free ice water.
We just feel on display, and we feel so inept because we can't say anything, even with guidebook, nobody understands us, tonal language, etc. We're stopped for coffee for real this time, and someone asks to take a picture of us, which is kind of weird but kind of fun, because we do it all the time.
keep biking holy shit tiny road with scooters zooming and banana trees and kids bikingandchickensrunningandbasketweavingandsofreakingmuchgoingoooooonnnnn, lots of horns, lots of piercing beeps. Can't even stop to take a picture because there is so little room on the road, and we'll be run over if we try to cross the street.
arrive in town, supposed to be nice, kind of a crap town crap hotel, searching for other hotel, found hotel, pretty nice
no electricity,sound of loud generators everywhere. WHY IS THERE CONSTANT NOISE
out to dinner, end of the day, it's a sleepy day, rainy, dark, sort of bla,
don't really want to be here, but at least we have clean sheets, a cool shower, and a big meal. i was afraid we were going to wander around for an hour, starving, cobbling together a meal of street food when what we want are huge plates of starch and protein
With such detailed notes, a slew of photos, and sometimes even audio, it is surprisingly easy to get back into the spirit of the day, reliving exactly how it felt. We remember the hill climbs, the wind in our faces, the taste of the food, the feel of our sweat-coated backs, the friendly smiles and interesting encounters.
In fact, in bloobing about the notes we wrote over a month ago, Tara remembered and added several interesting things about the day which were never mentioned in the notes.
Once we're "in the zone" of a day, the actual writing begins, starting with The Shitty First Draft.
I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident.
Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.
(Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said that you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
…more on that next time.