Dani Shapiro
February 16, 2007

Pecking and Wretched

My favorite Virginia Woolf quote of late, a reflection of hers upon finishing a draft of The Waves: “I must hastily provide my mind with something else, or it will again become pecking and wretched–something imaginative, if possible, and light.” Pecking and wretched is exactly what I feel in the months that stretch between finishing one novel and starting the next. I promised myself, when I finished Black & White, that I’d do the Trollopian thing — Trollope is reported to have simply drawn a line beneath the ending of one novel, and straightaway started the next. What that does (or what I would imagine it would do, since I’ve never managed to even try it) is to take away the fear, the dread, the self-consciousness of telling oneself: oh, I’m starting another novel. Starting a novel is such a crazy thing to do. I mean, who in their right mind would embark on something that takes years, that is an act of faith, that is like being in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight? (A poet friend of mine, when we were batting around this analogy, remarked: “yeah, AND you’re building the boat!”)

What I seem to do, these days, is this: Surf the internet. Make a cappuccino. Surf the internet some more. Start with a lofty goal: say, research for a story I’m thinking of writing. End up — and how did this happen? — browsing websites for boots, jeans, summer camps, kids’wet suits, not necessarily in that order. Debate between another cappuccino and doing my daily (okay, six times a week, okay, this week it was four) yoga practice. Decide on yoga and THEN more caffeine. The caffeine then leads to busy-work (gotta get those files organized!) which then leads to the sun setting in the sky and…what just happened?

What isn’t happening on a day such as this is writing–and since I am someone for whom writing is necessary (by which I don’t simply mean I make a living at it, but rather, that it is medicinal, it is required, I don’t quite know what I’m thinking or feeling without it)–this is not a good thing. Not remotely.