That’s me. Where I live. Who I am. A State of Mind—or the lack of it. After such an intense weekend at the page, it’s also a description of exhaustion. Spent the weekend at a very tough technical passage that feels right, but is far from being finished.

Being at once so close and so far from the end of the book (and a very challenging conclusion, at that), I thought that this would be the perfect moment to step back from discussing the actual work, to consider the stages of the writer’s thinking from which the thoughts come. To let a little air into the closed room, so to speak.

Stage One: Preparation. This is cloud surfing. The taking of notes from the high inner place. The realm where formless thinking happens. Playground brain.

It’s fun. No jeopardy, here. No stern critical voices of better judgment are allowed to intrude. We get to know the characters. We learn to love them. We play in the green garden of language. We fly.

Stage Two: Chapters. Sooner or later, as the notes reach critical mass, the book says “Time to write me.” It says this without my permission. The characters insist. I may not know where the work is heading, except in a very general way. This is a time for faith; the knowing that all will be clear…sooner or later. Outlines for chapters happen here. Arcs for characters start to be apparent. This is, to borrow a construct from the current work-in-progress, cresting the hump of the big-boy roller coaster. Nothing needs to be perfect; nothing needs to make sense. Yet.

Stage Three: Begging & Pleading. A lot of wandering in the wilderness, as the book decides where it wants to go. One lives in moments of stark terror, standing back from what made lovely sense yesterday, finding that it’s utter dreck today. This is the bargaining stage: “Dear brain,” one tells one’s self, “give me just a little something, and I’ll promise to be good. I’ll try to make it work.”

Stage Four: Backtracking. The work moves in multiple directions—backwards as much as forward. This is the world of “Why didn’t I think of that before?”…the development of richer turnings of plot and character that require living in multiple dimensions simultaneously. By now, there are moments in which I am sick to death of my words, myself and everything around me. A lot of knee-jerk faux-technique gets used, with the understanding that I’ll work it out later. I feel as if I’m using the same 15 words over and over again. Critical judgment is out the window. This is the state of every woman for herself. Lots of stuff to work through. Later.

Stage Five: Terror. The book is nearly finished. I hate it. I love it. It’s stupid. It’s wonderful. People will love it. They’ll hate it. I’ll never find an agent or a publisher. No one understands me or what I’m trying to accomplish. All these feelings, all at the same time. And how—HOW—the hell am I gonna pull off what the ending will ask of me?

Stage Six: Mourning. Finished. Done. The lover has walked out the door. I could call him back. But I am half relieved to see him go. The book is complete. There’s nothing more to be done.  I could spend another year of my life trying to polish the thing until it’s smooth like a river stone…but I’ve done that already, haven’t I? This is where I sleep a lot. Cry a lot. And go straight back to Stage One for the next work.

It’s an impossible, ridiculous way to live. And did I mention that I wouldn’t have it any other way?