not firmly based

I haven’t had a morning in a while where I’ve allowed myself to drift from one thing to the next without accountability. When I was practicing law, I used to have to account for every six minutes.

This morning I was trying to locate a Virginia Woolf quote from A Writer’s Diary, and I got lost in the pages.

Saturday, November 2, 1929–almost a hundred years ago:

But I am more concerned with my Waves. I’ve just typed out my morning’s work; and can’t feel altogether sure. There is something there (as I felt about Mrs. Dalloway) but I can’t get at it, squarely; nothing like the speed and certainty of the Lighthouse: Orlando mere child’s play. Is there some falsity of method, somewhere? Something tricky?–so that the interesting things aren’t firmly based?

Then on Boxing Day (December 26):

All is rather rapt, simple, quick, effective–except for my blundering on at The Waves. I write two pages of arrant nonsense, after straining; I write variations of every sentence; compromises; bad shots; possibilities; til my writing book is like a lunatic’s dream. Then I trust to some inspiration on re-reading; and pencil them into some sense. Still I am not satisfied. I think there is something lacking…I press to my centre…And there is something there.

There’s so much more on the ups and downs of her writing days. Do any of you step outside the writing to record how it’s going?

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24 thoughts on “not firmly based

      • Blogging is the only non-fiction writing I do. And since I’m candid about my writing process, it does serve as a sort of journal. Though, my emails to some writer friends would paint a clearer picture of my frustrations, indecisions, and utter lack of sense. 😉


  1. I have a journal that I write in for the past few weeks. I keep it by my laptop and I jot down thoughts about my writing. It has helped me focus in a way I never could have imagined.
    And of course, there is the blog…


    • Jennifer, I’ve also just recently started keeping notes about how the writing is going–not on a daily basis but if something comes up. In addition to focus, it seems to be adding a new level of awareness. I might try to expand this to a daily process.


  2. Really enjoying the updates, Cynthia. A fascinating journey….I’m so glad you find time to share these experiences. It enriches my life as a reader immeasurably. (And makes me a wee bit jealous!)


  3. Sometimes I go from one thing to the next, not quite knowing how to quiet the noise in my head. Other times I find myself so focused that I feel like I reach a place of quiet and the tasks just fall into place. Most of the time I follow my heart, my gut and of course the most eminent fire! Good luck in recording!


  4. Lovely post, Cynthia. I can’t imagine having to account for every 6 minutes! I believe my best discoveries come on mornings “drifting” as you’ve described. I do keep a journal which includes updates on my writing projects in process. I’ve been doing that for a long time now, and it may be that I started that practice when I was in my MFA program. I learned a lot from reading Woolf’s “A Writer’s Diary” and from John Steinbeck’s “Journal of a Novel.”


    • Dory, nice to hear from you. Yes, it’s true–every 6 minutes. It’s because of the VCFA packets that I’ve recently started keeping notes on the writing, and as I responded to Jennifer above, I think it is adding a level of awareness. I also love Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel.

      Have you looked at his Working Days–the journal he kept while he was writing The Grapes of Wrath? A quote of his I love from that journal is, “The weeks swing by but they don’t seem to get me much nearer to completion. They do, of course, only they don’t seem to.”


  5. I abandoned my journal when I started writing full time–because I didn’t think it was as important as what I was working on.
    Turns out, I’ve rediscovered the journal after my time in Haiti. Writing fiction works to help me process, way way way after the fact. The journal helps me process minute to minute. Right now. And that is important to writing–and to reading–because if the immediate processing doesn’t happen, there is no context for the work to come.
    Does that even make sense? Hmmmm . . . I think the journal is the next place I’ll visit.


    • Ohhh, Peggy, you make a great point about the difference between the two types of writing: writing in a journal helps us process and keep track of the minute to minute whereas writing fiction is a much more delayed processing. What did this mean at the time and what does it mean now? Basically, it’s two ways of getting at what’s inside–each one the richer for the other.


  6. I do, and I’ll often start an entry in my journal about how the writing is going, and then transition into the writing itself. Sometimes the writing about writing is enough practice to get me started on the “real” writing.


  7. I write morning pages every morning (sometimes my “morning” turns into early afternoon, but still…). It’s in those pages that I record whether or not a writing project is going smoothly, or going at all. If I re-read those pages, I would guess they would appear as a literary manifestation of a roller coaster.

    I love those quotes by Virginia Woolf, by the way. Thanks for your post.


    • Hi Christi-I’ve always wanted to write morning pages, but I’ve never had the patience for it.

      About the quotes, I keep trying to figure out why these were the ones I kept going back to on Monday. Maybe it’s because lately I’m trying to write with a lighter touch, with less intention, and trying to figure out how to reach that thing I want to write about and how to know when I’ve gotten there.


  8. I love how you’ve gone from billable minutes to getting lost in the pages of Virginia Woolf. I LOVE the shot of the light on the sea.

    I’m totally immersed in my writing and revision while I’m doing it, but later I often talk about the day’s work or sticky stages with my family or writer friends. Sometimes I write a journal entry about my writing, but usually I’m too busy to self reflect. I do record important moments, like inspiration, on my blog.


    • Sarah, I loved that shot of the sea too. I had no idea what I had either because I didn’t have my glasses. I was just clicking.

      I hardly ever talk about my writing so I may take a week and try to make a few notes as I go–see what comes out of it.


  9. ‘I think there is something lacking…I press to my centre…And there is something there.’ Even her diary reads like a beautiful, rare piece of narrative – how cruel to have suffered any doubts about it – but maybe that’s in the nature of things.
    Thank-you for sharing this with us, Cynthia.


    • Jill, seeing your comment caused me to reread these words of Virginia Woolf. So interesting because as I finished writing today, I thought to myself, I hope I can make some sense of this tomorrow when I reread it. And I agree–what a shame she had any doubts. Thanks for leaving a comment.


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