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The writer-mind is subversive; never sure what it wants to believe.

Ask me right now about the book I have spent the last 18 months writing, and I’ll tell you what a folly it is. How absurd it is. How it is an improbability pretending to be something greater.

Ask me tomorrow, and chances are that I’ll tell you something different.

There may be no greater terror for a writer than the fear of self…the shaking dread that the hours of devotion have been wasted…that the intention is noble but the reality is crap. I am not alone in this fear; I’ve heard other writers express it. I expect that many folks who have sought to create an outlandishly original idea have felt as I do. In fact, if one were to look through these Skydiaries posts, all the way back to the months just before the finishing of the previous work, I’d bet that there’s a similar sentiment lurking there, somewhere.

The problem is not knowing which voice is speaking the truth.

Did James Joyce question his will to create a 4,000 word-plus paragraph? Did Isaac Asimov doubt a tale about robots? Did Ray Bradbury have misgivings when telling a story about an illustrated man? In any work that took a chance, did improbability and genius present themselves in equal measure? No, I’m not comparing myself to brilliance. But in the pure humanity that each of us holds in common with greatness, we’re permitted to wonder.

Crippling self-doubt is a waste. Bulletproof self-confidence is equally deadly. The internal rigger that strings the invisible tightrope between the two is notoriously unreliable. Encouragements, as welcome as they are, do nothing to secure one’s footing over time. Discouragements seem much easier to believe.

We hope that we are not capable of delusion; that the good will shine and the bad will readily reveal itself. Work hard enough, we tell ourselves, and the answer will come clear. Listen to the ethers, and the voice will speak true. Yet, paint a turd gold, and it’s still a turd. Or maybe not.

If only an idea’s worth could flash neon from the laptop screen: good. Bad. Idiotic. Intriguing. But sadly, there is no cosmic tastemaker, telling it like it is.

Tonight, not a good night. Tomorrow may be better. So here’s what this writer is going to do tomorrow: commit again.  My prayer to the writer-spirit…If the thing is impossibly absurd, let it be that. If I am completely wrong, let me be. Until I get it right. Until I learn to recognize the difference.

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The prospect of delight. A day dictated by no other will but one’s own. A day to be fierce about; committed to.

Writing with a full day ahead is an incomparable joy.

Commerce demands that the working writer work at night, applying whatever scant energy is left after the wringing days are done. Some nights, many nights, there’s nothing much to spare.

Possibilities live by daylight. And fearless judgment. And forgiveness for mistakes. And ways out; ways around. The world is bound by the steps between bedroom and writing space, and yet that world is infinite. Whatever happens on the clock has no place here.

When a writing day is ahead, the writer goes to bed happy. She faces forward, even as her eyes close, full of what’s to come. Even when doubt stalks the story or a problem stubbornly resists resolution, night’s door will open onto fresh possibility. There are pages full of beloved people waiting. And they are hers to discover with everything in her.

The 100% days. The reality-I-make days. The where-did-the-time go days. Whatever is wrong, is distressing, is worrying, is uncontrollable, is irresolvable, cannot be as strong as what may happen in that full-energy time. A day at the page does that. Nothing else can.

And writing on cloudy days: Those are the best of all. Grey is strange hope. The veil drawn against changing light. Forgiving, quiet light, soft in the eye. Light not harsh, not challenging. A melancholy that matches the mood of the tale. An exterior much like the inside always is. Sometimes we draw the curtain against the sunshine, to dull the contrast between out and us. Sometimes the day never makes an appearance, even when it’s there.

We can’t quite explain it. Couldn’t expect you to understand it. Isolation in full attention can be an extraordinary gift.

Today is Wednesday. 72 hours before I can come back to me. And happily turn myself inside out for a world that only I can see.

There comes an inevitable moment in writing a book when you realize that you don’t really need your tape recorder any more.

You hold its lifeless little body in your hand; the soul of its urgency has fled onto the page. You don’t keep it strapped to your wrist at night. Days pass without your feeling the desire to touch the button combo that scribes your thoughts. The tiny tape, once hot with ideas, lay cooling behind its clear plastic window. You keep the device close, even so, because without it the juju might disappear.

Sad. And not. It’s a wonderful awareness, knowing how the absence defines the work’s progress. Yet, how sad because you know that obsession has less of a daily place in your life.

Then one day, a thought born of a dream or insomnia or something somebody said on NPR. The tickle of a small thought that might flee without your capturing it. You run to the recorder’s place at your bedside, a warm body in cool plastic, the lover you don’t have. You run, wet from the shower, to capture the idea that must be held in trust for a book already completed, a germ that will change everything. A phrase. A cadence. A seed that contains all the DNA of the unplanted plant, waiting for earth and sun. Like love rediscovered, if only for a moment.

Soon the reluctance will come; the sad severing from the completed book. Soon enough, the process will start again—new ideas, breathless new love, new characters more real than real. The little recorder will safeguard them as it does the ideas past. The recorder will be the keeper of my spirit, the prover and champion of my midnight notions. My confidante and companion. For now, I’ll hold it in my hand, in memory and hope.

I will be a literary cyborg. And happy for that.

An awakening at 4 a.m. Of the best kind. A dream.

A living space on water, although in the dream I never saw the main house. This was a kind of exposed, semi-circular under-story, with accoutrements all around that offered the possibility that this could well be a living space: chairs, a lovely old enamel stove, tables…and, incongruously, water beneath, an ocean that should not have been there.

People were there in the space. I didn’t know them, yet didn’t mind that I didn’t. Creative, they were. Eagerly so. Generous in their shared inventiveness, unlike the experience in so many other creative fields. Somewhere, there was a creative director, a guiding force that we never saw—but it didn’t matter. The presence was felt.

This creative engineer encouraged unusual forms of expression without limiting the forms they could take; a mentor invisible. The creators were encouraged to find the possibilities even in the unlikeliest of products. In the dream, I found great power in something that was a cross between a seashell and an exotic spiral pastry…and it occurred to me that some unrevealed potential might be found there. Any object could be the spur to creativity—a tactile expression that wouldn’t require words on paper to express what one should think or feel about the project at hand. An unlikely method ever to adopt, certainly, but an encouragement of non-traditional ways of thinking. The legitimizing of wild fancy as a tool for the imagination. A realization that ideas are findable in every possible form.

And the dream, strangely enough, informed another lightning bolt about the book-in-progress: The freedom to redefine how creativity is generated…the essence of the group of artists at the center of the story, a group for which competitiveness is nonexistent and cooperation and encouragement are all.

The dream’s environmental imagery—as real as reality, although I have never seen any of it—gave me a way to richen the story’s physical space. The energy in the dream room gave me other ways to expand the idea of art’s Divine light and send it into other places throughout story; told me how much richer the metaphor would become if I applied multiple touches. The dream pushed the concept; reminded me of a solution where I hadn’t even seen a problem.

The channel to the invisible. In the constant slog that the commerce-job has been, in this craft-driven stage of the book’s re-writing, that clear channel has been rarely in evidence. I’ve missed it. Last night, I went back to the place of the gifts in dreams. And heard lessons I’m even now trying to decipher. Lucky me. Very lucky me.

Okay. No posts for a while.

I’ve been circling, waiting to land.

Sadly, the act of circling feels very like being a passenger in the Rod Serling plane condemned to fly forever. Nothing bloggish to say. Nothing original sprouting in the grey matter. No energy to communicate it, even if a solitary brain cell ever did condescend to land.

The circling has invaded the bookspace, too. The end of the book is, literally, pages away, but the writer hasn’t had enough energy at the end of the workday to do anything but scrape over already-scraped space. Dogged, yes. Determined, kinda. But driven—ummmm, no.

The pilot has been asleep at the controls.  And circling on empty.

But.

A glimmer through the haze of exhaustion. A hint of landing lights, perhaps. A wispy suggestion of the joy that writing is, the purpose that animates us and draws us home at the end of the day. The prospect of denouement; of falling in love with character and words for one final farewell. And, of course, the hard-work-joy of the rewrite, the step away, the clean objectivity of the edit. The understanding that we live to create, not just to exist. These are the Bernoulli Principle of the creative heart that lifts our mental wings and lets us soar.

Sometimes we crash. Sometimes we thud. Sometimes we splash down without Capt. Sully’s Hudson River grace or composure. And sometimes (a feeling so rare in me, lately), we see the magic in the final approach; feel the tickle of the air as we bank out of that Twilight Zone arc and line up our ideas with joy and precision.

Tonight, the mental control tower tells me this: Circling itself can be a destination. Even if the addled pilot hasn’t quite figured out what it is.

This is what it feels like.

The chapter—the momentous act that the entire book has been building to—owns me. Before I wake and once I do. In the choices I make for the day. In what I eat. In the shower I don’t take. In the exercising I don’t do. In the head-clearing catnaps I time to fuel me for what will be written next.

I am the woman in the bubble, holding her breath against the world’s getting in.

The feeling. The overwhelmingness of it. The slam. I stand in front of the avalanche that I called down upon myself and I invite it to come. Breathless, knowing how hard it will hit. Excited and resigned, knowing that, once I’ve called it, there will be no running away.

I write through the fidgets of avoidance; through the sudden, needless urgencies that ask me to do this or do that. On weekends spent at the page, I give myself the evenings off, to let the internal batteries fill. I go to sleep with it inside me. I wake with it still there.

And the day at commerce is intolerable.

The glittering, fragile, horrid, consuming, wonderful bubble is still around me. I nurture it. I don’t want to let it go, this umbilical that binds me to the breathless place in the ethers. I sit at my desk listening to the music that has decorated and informed the scenes. And I am crying…thinking what madness this would be if any of my co-workers should catch me at it…feeling the desperation of knowing that I cannot, can never, hold on to such an ethereal thing.

This is not a thing that can be called up at will. It is a welling from the inside, rich and tenuous and terrifying. I don’t want anything but this. Ever.

Draw the curtains. Take away the world. Leave me be. The writer is not here. The writer does not want to be. She is busy holding her breath. And the world may not come here, where I am.

The greatest joy for the writer comes with the passage that writes itself; the shimmering fabric that presents itself whole in our heads and asks us to do nothing more than lay it to the page.

Other times, we’re bricklayers.

Sometimes, the big picture refuses to coalesce. The unvoiced question refuses to be answered. We send ourselves dutifully to the chapter and labor at it, building it one brick at a time. It ain’t easy. And a brick wall is, by its nature, no shimmering fabric.

But there’s a grace in bricklaying. There are several.

A brick wall can be disassembled—a lot more easily than a shimmering fabric can be unwoven. We lay one element and make it level. We lay another and test whether they lay true. We can tease the bricks apart. Or pull them down altogether. The wall holds its place nicely for a while…until a better structure presents itself. If we’re lucky, we wind up with a passable, workmanlike thing. That’s tough when we ask, demand, something more of ourselves. And yet, what we have built stands for something—effort if not inspiration.

This has been a hollow weekend, in some ways. A bricklaying session supreme. I started with a wonderful image, set to music real and imagined, only to discover that there was a hole that I hadn’t anticipated; one that I didn’t know how to fill…a character who has moved the story from the beginning, whom I had allowed to disappear. I’ve been laying-in the bricks of this created encounter, waiting for the ahahhhh, for the mental mortar; knowing that there is a beautiful moment hiding in the pile, but not quite finding it yet.

Which brings us to the other grace, the one that comes with the effort itself. A day spent writing—even poorly—or painting, or doing vocal exercises or stretching the body to dance is a day spent well. The practice may not make us amazing limber or reveal an unexpected genius, but at least it is the opposite of atrophy. The wheel, well oiled, may not carry us over our personal mountain passes or win our internalized Indy 500, but we can be pretty sure that it won’t seize up at the least opportune moment. Lay brick, and our brain-muscles will be more toned and ready for fresh demands than if we’d sat on the sidelines of ourselves.

Bricklaying as an exercise in self-forgiveness. Who’da thunk it?

Commerce wants my days. It’s the trade I make. The stuff I must write so I can write the stuff I want to write.

The gift I give me in the morning…the last thing I do before preparations for the day consume me: I read myself. Not my moods, or the creakings of a body still strung with the spiderwebs of sleep that I can’t brush away–this is a reading of a paragraph or two from the earnest-but-way-too-tired efforts of the night before. A paragraph whose singing might carry me through the day. A reminder of who I am.

It is a spare gift, admittedly. But it is full of grace and light. A reminder of why it’s worth it, those hours of adapting my desires to demands that are beyond my natural ability to love.

Even the half-cooked meal that is an unfinished passage is brain-food. It is my own personal Breakfast of Champions with the power to carry me into the day with a well-nourished fortitude. Ask me whether I would be willing to cast off the job entirely to live the twilight-life of the hopeful writer…not sure that I would. I trade the luxuries of a wonderful apartment, spur-of-the-moment decisions to hit the steak-frites trail and the handy, pantried case of wine for the teeth-gritted tolerance of writing for others’ needs.

Commerce makes us expendable, despite the best we can do. The nature of business makes us disposable; lambs too easily sacrificed on the cold stone of the bottom line. In the space in which we write as Writers, the act comes first. We worship in the house of the sacred word. The considerations that come once we are published…well, that’s another carton of curdled milk.

For now, I carry myself into the 9-5 hours with sentences full of promise. The mysterious deer that wanders into Central Park, an urban wonder soon to be slaughtered by dogs. The steeple bell that sounds in an imagination that sees the darkness that will end the day. The man who has lived by the graces of his art, only to bring himself to the dire understanding of what that commitment will really cost. Even when the writer is willing to open herself to exactly and only what everyday life offers, the Glorious Ordinary is limited and small next to imagining’s gifts.

And so I remind myself. I hold the better me with the same cramping fingers that grip the life vest that spares one from drowning. The gift I give me is the understanding—despite all the tearings and assaults of real life—of who I actually, truly, am.

I had such high hopes for this trip to the river house, my first visit back home in seven months. I expected that the place would pick up my imagination as it has so often done, in the manner of a knight on a white horse, to carry me away to a Camelot of creativity.

Four days in, and I’m still waiting.

Have I worked at the writing? Yes. Every day. Have there been moments of writerly abandon? Absolutely. But am I dancing in my head, ready to leap to the page from the moment I open my eyes?

No.

Perhaps I expected too much from this time off; hoped for too much. But I don’t think so. The demand, the wish, is deeper and more lasting than the vagaries of a particular emotion (or lack of) on a given week.

I want the words and phrases and emotions to rattle me awake. I want the characters to chase me from room to room of the plot like an amorous suitor. I want the book to write itself through me. It hasn’t happened. Not so far.

It isn’t just the book. I look out at the magnificent greenery, drink in the heady smells, find pleasure in the sights and sounds of birds. But I am not transported. I appreciate all that I am given, but I experience it as I would regard a piece of homemade lemon meringue pie through the surface of a glass case: I am absolutely certain that it will taste and smell delightful, but it is not a delight I can feel.

I am the writer at the dance, sitting on the sidelines without a partner. I have gotten my arts confused. I hear the music, I watch the footwork on the floor, but it is not a language ready to my  ear. I can  describe it but I do not experience it.

At times like these, I must find the Zen in me. I must work patiently and persistently through the Meh and wait for joy to find its home in me again. If I can do nothing else, I will groom the page and smooth it and fall back on craft. I will smile in that inner place just shy of the ecstatic, and wait for the heart to come back into me.

I may not dance, but neither will I stand still.

NPR interview. Could have been me. Sounded like me. The writer’s struggle between the demands of life and the life of the page. The challenge of human relationships in a headspace where the art is all.

One of the most telling comments was in answer to the question about how the writer dealt with comments from those folks closest to her who read her work. Her husband, a writer, was the person whose involvement promised to be the most challenging. “You want people to be honest about the work,” she answered; “…to be honest and love it.”

A number of the readers with whom this writer shares her work understand that abiding need. A few do not. Some, like dear, wonderful friend Kay (who is reading for the first time) have the thoughtful good sense to ask how the writer wants them to respond; what sort of response would be the most useful. Others have the lovely consideration to tickle one’s vanity in harmless ways, knowing how much certain types of sharing mean. Some say exactly the wrong things. But they mean well.

Such foolish creatures, we writers are—like children presenting handmade valentines to beloved teachers. We want people to read. We want them to like what they read. Overly sensitive wretches we are, who listen too hard to what is said to us, interpret it too critically and react too strongly.

When we receive half the reaction we hoped for our pique fills the sky.

Sometimes we find distance and balance in what we hear and how we react. But not often. Our reactions are as unguarded, unreliable and uncontrollable as our tenuous relationships with life.

Our lives come complete with moments of fear. Some of those moments approach terror…realizations that real life is not what we think it is, what we want, what we know, what we’re comfortable with. The standing-outside-ourselves that casts a hard, harsh light on a spare, inward, dedicated, isolated existence.

A life of the mind is such that the outside world can be stark and ugly in comparison. Sometimes, we don’t hear the answer we want. Sometimes, we don’t even hear it from ourselves.

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