No fictional depiction of a writer’s life has ever seemed more accurate to me than the one in the Charlie Kaufman movie Adaptation. The main character (whose name is also Charlie Kaufman) has a challenging writing assignment: he’s got to somehow turn Susan Orleans’ non-fiction book The Orchid Thief into a movie people would actually pay money to go see. He–like many authors–is filled with self-loathing, frustration, despair. And when he tries to sit down to write, his internal monologue (spoken in a voiceover, if I remember correctly) goes something like this:
“To begin… To begin… How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana-nut. That’s a good muffin.”
When I watched this scene years ago, I could have yelped in delight: that’s ME. That’s my writing process! That’s exactly what goes through my head when I sit down to write! (Virginia Woolf, eat your heart out: Charlie Kaufman nailed it, not you.)
At this moment, I’m just coming out from under a fairly major rewrite–keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t have to do another on this same YA novel–and I’m terrified of stepping on the scale. Write a page, eat a snack. That’s pretty much how it goes. Sometimes it’s rewrite a page, eat a snack. Sometimes it’s rewrite a page, check Facebook, eat a snack. Sometimes it’s write a paragraph, check Facebook, check gofugyourself.com, think about getting a snack, resist (like the character Charlie Kaufman, I often think I should hold out and use the snack as a reward), try to focus on writing, and then give in and go eat snack . . .
When I’m really really under a deadline, I can’t even let myself worry about it. “Snack today, repent when this draft is in,” becomes my motto. And I do get healthier when things calm down for me: I take more walks (which makes Harvey the Yellow Lab very happy), find time to do some yoga, cook healthy meals instead of grabbing at the peanut butter and jelly, and so on. But then another deadline looms and I’m back to being Charlie Kaufman, dreaming of the coffee and muffin that will give me a break from the torture of wrangling words into shape.
If my career ever really takes off, I’m going to have to buy a bigger wardrobe.