“500 Words” by Harry Kollatz: Five Pages Every Day

Photo by Amie Oliver

Harry Kollatz, Jr., is a writer for Richmond magazine and the author of several nonfiction books about the city. Having been lured to the dark side (fiction), he was a member of the workshop from 2010 to 2011.

On May 11, 2011, I started a project of writing five pages each day on a novel-in-progress already underway.  I’d started it in VCU’s year-long workshop, the class had just ended, and I needed a way to keep myself anchored to the project.  My wife thoughtfully departed for an artist’s residency in Paris, leaving me adrift.  I had to come up with a Plan.

Part of my challenge was overcoming the desire to rewrite the same twenty pages for weeks at a time.  I had to motivate myself to
move forward.  So, like a captive or castaway, I decided to draw hash marks on my office wall to record the progress. Five hash marks per day–four vertical and a diagonal strike through them. The schedule calls for getting up around 6 a.m., to crank out five one-sided, space-and-a-half 18-point pages. This setup makes for easy, visible revision reading and corrections I know I’ll make someday.

To help myself stick to it, I post an image of each day’s marks on Facebook with a description of the morning’s process. Pictures of muses who represent aspects of the story’s protagonist also adorn this beleaguered wall. The intricacies of plot or character aren’t mentioned. The postings provide a personal goad to keep at it and a public rebuke when I’m slack. Acquaintances who know little or nothing about my novel’s storyline cheer me on beneath the Facebook picture. Thus, “Five More Pages” operates as the prod I wanted.

Deep into the process, I learned that Henry Miller once thought he needed write in ten-hour shifts until falling over from exhaustion. That’s how I’d conducted previous failed projects, in part because of a deadline-bound journalism background. Then Miller read some advice given by avant-garde poet turned novelist Blaise Cendrars, whose process at one point meant rising at dawn for two hours of writing and then getting into the rest of the day. In The Paris Review, Cendrars explained, “One has other things to do in life aside from writing books.”

All of us have plenty else going on, especially if working some other daily grind. Finding time to write is one thing. Applying the discipline to keep writing the same project is another. Compulsion and passion can sweep you along awhile, but, speaking for myself, the insistent nattering of doubt erodes confidence.  [great para]

These days, I’m experiencing “my boat is so small and the ocean so large.” The story seems to have sprawled, though I’m following the outline I prepared for Susann’s workshop.  I’ve wanted to quit. Even when the draft is completed, revisions must follow, and it’s a total crapshoot about whether this thing will become a published book.

Yes, I am wearying as I round near a year of working almost alone. The initial joy of bringing to life a six-foot-five, redheaded, pigtailed, nine-fingered guitar-playing freak of nature has devolved into periodic bouts of pleasure within a desert of doubt and anxiety.

When pulled to the brink of despair, I fight the temptation to bury myself in the sands of nothingness. I have a duty to my Facebook cheering section.  But they understand that due to cramping pinkies, I now take Sundays off.

Tags: ,

Article | Comments Off on “500 Words” by Harry Kollatz: Five Pages Every Day

Comments are closed.