The Maggie Beane Society
Former roommates can tell you that I put an insane amount of time into writing a satirical suburban crime novel called Golden Years (the same roommates might complain that I spent even more time playing Tony Hawk and Final Fantasy 7 on PS2, depriving them of the TV). In hindsight, my honest assessment of the book is that it’s not bad, but I’d want to rewrite it almost completely before showing it in public. It was a great way to learn how not to write a novel. At the time that I wrote it, I was embracing a few bad ideas, and was determined to make them work even though they weren’t working (they were bad, see?). The major consequence of this is that when it came time to write the end, I just couldn’t. To this day, the final pages of the novel are only notes. I know EXACTLY how that story was going to end, but knowing it would be a bad novel, I think I amped up the procrastination until it was a foregone conclusion that the thing would never get done.
Now, given the to-do list I’ve created, I’m not foolish enough to say that I’m going to finish a novel in 2013. But I’m not going to use that to-do list as an excuse to not work on one in earnest. So, of the goals I’ve laid out, this one is a bit of an outlier. I do not intend to deliver what I’m about to describe as a finished product in 2013. But I do expect to make serious progress on it.
I’m writing this on February 9, 2013, the morning of an immense blizzard. During a similar blizzard years ago, I performed at a show at ImprovBoston, back when it was in Inman Square. Will Luera was hosting one of his irregular “The Artistic Director Presents” shows, and there were about 15 people in the audience. I did a 12 minute show called “The Haze,” a bizarre little spy story in which a man staking out a target he couldn’t identify spun stories of a near-mythical private, stateless spy agency called The Maggie Beane Society. The Maggie Beane Society, he explained, was so secretive that most people in the intelligence world were convinced they didn’t actually exist. Will led a talkback session, and though the audience was small, I was struck by how enthusiastic people were about that particular aspect of the story: Maggie Beane.
The reason that it worked was that I knew a lot more about the Maggie Beane Society than I said onstage, and so I played it very fully: at that point I’d begun writing my second novel, a sprawling spy comedy in which the MBS was a major element. As I said, that was years ago. What happened to the novel? All sorts of delays and distractions, both real and manufactured, got in the way. But the real answer is that I procrastinated a lot. Last year, I got started again, meeting regularly with a small writing group, and I made real progress, knocking out a couple chapters and really getting the thing to start taking shape. The group stopped meeting, and I kept writing for a short while. But not for long. Without the pressure of a meeting to bring something to, it was easy to sideline the novel again.
(I’m not a guy who looks at self-help books. I’m too self-conscious. But there is one book that sits squarely in the self-help genre that I recommend whole-heartedly, and it’s a book that describes exactly what I’m doing wrong. It’s called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. If you’ve ever used writer’s block as an excuse for anything, or you struggle with procrastination, get a copy and keep it near wherever you work. Pressfield will shame you into getting back to work. I’m certainly moving my copy within arm’s reach, not just for this, but for I Should Have Done That Differently.)
There’s an argument to be made that if you’re not making a priority of something it’s not want you want to do. I disagree. I think sometimes you let something become less of a priority because it’s too daunting, not because it’s less important to you. You think, “nobody’s waiting for me to do this, so I’ll do it later.” And then you keep doing that day after day and month after month until you die. It’s how most novels go.
This particular novel, which I’ve picked up work on and put down again over and over for years, feels no less urgent or fresh an idea than it ever did. Just last week I was back at it, revising an early bit, reconceiving a character who’d never quite done what he needed to be doing. I know I want to be working on this book. So I will be working on this book.
A goal without a plan is a wish. I need a plan. Of all of these things I’m posting, this one has the least clear road to completion. So I’m making this plan on the fly, and I will hold to it (this approach works very, very well for me when I do it with scripts I’m working on).
I will have complete first or revised drafts of chapters on the following dates in 2013:
To keep me honest, I’m willing to send these drafts to anybody who asks for them. Ask for them. Keep me honest.
This is a very modest goal. Three chapters this year. That’s almost nothing, but alongside my other writing, it’s a real commitment.
One more post in this series. But first, I’m going sledding with my daughter.