I posted an image to Instagram of the desk where I toil daily on my WIP. On social media, WIP is short for Work in Progress. I prefer it the old way, work in progress, not an acronym, not capitalized, but as we know, nothing is safe from social media, not even democracy, not even novel-writing.
I’ve posted images like this before with obligatory hashtags like #amwriting and #writerslife. I do it in order to brag a little – I am writing and it’s hard; I do finally live a writer’s life with the publication of my debut novel, The Next, in 2016 at age 60. More importantly, posting my progress on Novel #2 is a way to hold myself accountable. Social media-ing my journey makes the daily commute to commitment harder to avoid. WIP might as well be Whip.
The picture I posted is my desktop, taken from above. I wanted the shot to accommodate the many tools of my daily trade, so I stood on my chair, which was stupid since it swivels and I’m 63. The dog left the room, shaking his head. In the image you can see a corner of my bulletin board, with push-pinned index cards and clippings that offer encouragement and inspiration: “Write as if you were dying …” – Annie Dillard. “Write naked, write from exile, write in blood.” – Denis Johnson. “Memory, the whole lying opera of it, is killing me now.” – Barry Hannah. Sensing a theme? Try staring at those index cards for two-plus years.
Also in the photo is an index card with “Capsula Mundi” in black Sharpie. It’s an Italian company that offers an appealing alternative to traditional burial: they turn you into a biodegradable pod your loved ones can plant, and you grow into a tree. After lightly researching it for my last book, I’m suspicious of cremation. I learned that the ashes are not only your ashes, but the ashes of everyone else in that day’s vaporization. I’m an introvert, so, no, so, a tree seems nice. I tacked Capsula Mundi to the bulletin board because I keep meaning to alert my daughters to it, for someday.
Back to Instagram. You can see my laptop screen filled with a Word document. You can see my Blueline notebook, the only brand I use; printed manuscript pages showing revisions in green Flair (my most beloved). You can see a numbered list of title ideas: there are 178. You can see Post-its — god bless Post-its — and especially the Post-its that have WTF at the top, which I don’t have to translate for you. There’s a coffee mug, of course, and my ear buds because I have been writing about songs and I like to hear them as far inside my head as possible, again and again.
You can also see Scotch tape – and a sidebar is in order here: Dear Scotch tape, please don’t ever change, I love the little snail-shaped container, the perfect teeth that work perfectly as so little else does anymore, I like the green plaid branding, I was okay when you went from shiny to matte and called it Magic, that was fine, I need nothing more, do nothing else, I beg you, #RESIST – and a small pair of scissors.
I posted my desktop to Instagram and a friend weighed in with multiple laughing-until-crying emojis and the comment, “Is that how you cut-and-paste???” Three question marks gave me pause. I don’t know for sure, but I thought she meant, “Girl, you are from the land that time forgot. Tape and scissors? You can do that in seconds with a couple of clicks.”
I know that. I use a software program for writers. Tape, scissors, index cards, green Flair, all of the tools I use have been made obsolete by this program. I could easily transform the manuscript much more efficiently.
The thing is, “easy” isn’t an option for me in novel-making. I got started late in life, I’m at the hard part (the whole thing) of #2 and releasing my words – a world – from the screen is the only way I can see if the words are making the world of the novel spin. Looking at the physical architecture of the writing, how it falls on the page, how it builds and stands and seems to gather momentum even in the blur of print, I can better understand where the characters misstep or step too soon, or how an event precipitates a revelation a character is not ready to experience. I can see if the order is wrong.
The physical act of cutting the pages, moving and taping, helps resolve recurring challenges, reveals sagging stretches, chapters that seem like they are not pulling their weight. Some pages get removed entirely, never to be restored – I can’t do that as effectively on screen. I need to print them, lay them out on the living room floor, kneel before them, step away, use my notebook, my Flair, my Scotch tape, and my scissors. I stare at the gloomy index cards to remind myself that the WIP is whipping my ass, it is not easy, it is hard, but I #amwriting.
The downside, of course, is the paper I’m using. I buy the recycled stuff but still, every time I hit Print, I feel guilty. I wonder, if I am planted as a Capsula Mundi pod and I grow into a tree, will I be spared ending up as printer paper?
Author photo by Elena Siebert
Stephanie Gangi is a writer of poems, essays, and fiction. Her acclaimed debut novel, The Next, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2016. She is at work on her second novel. Gangi lives and works in New York City.