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August 23, 2015 in A writer's life, Arts, Books, Creativity, Fiction, The Novel, Why we write, Writers, Writing, Writing a Book | Tags: affirmation, Authors, books, creativity, failure, fear, novelists, Writers. writing | Leave a comment
The island me. Surrounded by not-there, not doing.
Waiting happens. It’s what writers go through—a kind of lying fallow to replenish ourselves; a waiting for the story to happen. I understand it. I don’t have to like it.
In the emotional stall that is the search for an agent (a combination of day-job demands and inertia born of the outright, consuming, paralyzing fear of non-acceptance), one observes and one wonders:
Where is that line for defining what defines a writer? Where does our creative identity live? How do we find ourselves between the hairline cracks that lay between want-to-be, need-to-be and absolutely-is?
Those hairline cracks are fissures, sometimes. Chasms. Without the writing (or painting or sculpting or poetry writing or musicmaking or dancing or acting), what are we? Do we exist at all? Or are we just fooling ourselves?
A self-condemning stealthy fear waits to ambush us; tells us that a writer without readers is a failure; a mere wanna be. And that wanting is never, ever, ever going to be enough fuel to take us the whole way to is.
The need to write churns and prods, sometimes more, sometimes less…but is that need a legitimizing worthy of the claim I am a writer?
Perhaps the asking is a kind of answer. Recognition of need is, in itself, a confirmation of need, a pointing to a place in our natures that wants filling. But how do we get the rest of the way?
Is-a-writer is achievable only by the actual doing. And when one is gathering straw for the story’s brick, when one is waiting for the one agent, the one publisher, to see one’s voice as unique and worthy, that affirmation is a faint voice crying in an inner wilderness. We’re back to the uncrossable gap between is and want; to the self-fulfilling, self-defeating oroboros of wondering whether we’re truly what we’ve spend hours and years telling ourselves we are.
Why wait for that acknowledgement, that approval? The fact is, we do—no why about it. The most magnificent operative voice in the world wants an ear other than one’s own. We sing/dance/write for our own pleasure, but a creative effort without an audience is an effort half complete. We tell stories. Tell. Tell to someone. Without the someone, the story is just a magnifier of doubt. A self-indulgence. An unfulfilled and perhaps frivolous desire.
And that razor line? It’s the one that cuts through our hearts. Cuts our souls in two.
September 2, 2014 in Arts, Books, Creativity, Language, The Novel, Why we write, Writers, Writing, Writing a Book, Writing technique | Tags: A Book, A Novel, a writer's life, Arts, Authors, books, creativity, Fiction, Inspiration, novels, THE Writing Process, Writing Process | 1 comment
Not in one place. Not in another. Not past the spell of the past work; not yet caught up in the new. The writer between books.
I am at the house. And I am not here. I am listening to the birds, to the wind in trees, to the absence of human sound, and it is only the placing of the description on the page makes any of it real to me.
A tilled field, I am. The fertile growth has been harvested, the remains plowed under. The fragile, exposed ground is left open to the sun and air, waiting for new seed and rain to green it; to turn it into something worthwhile again. Letting the field lay fallow is a familiar concept. The reality isn’t nearly so fulfilling. For now, I am a dustbowl waiting to happen, waiting for the substance of me to be blown away.
As a character reflects in the last work, “he hadn’t expected to be so…without.” I am, in this moment, without.
I mourn this lack, and I don’t. I don’t like it, but I understand it. Understanding it hardly makes it easier. Nothing will heal the raw and naked ground but the verdancy of a new work taking root. The feeling is a revelation of how deeply involved we were; of how exhausted the break has left us. Knowing doesn’t help.
We stand in the space between raindrops, writers do. In the vacant place that is suddenly us, we don’t dance between the drops—we wander, restless, wanting to be touched by something, hoping for the cloudburst (for the drizzle, even) that will make something grow. From that cloudburst will come discontents and gifts, separations and conflicts. And purpose. But that time isn’t yet.
In this arid country, we are praying for rain.
In New York City, we offer offhanded compliments. “I don’t hate it,” we say. “Couldn’t hurt,” we say.
Years have passed; the uber-cool attitudiness persists. In the compliments we offer ourselves.
A two-sentence end to a passage. A revision from “see what’s coming” blatancy to something a little tighter, a little closer-in, a little stylier. As I closed down the work for the night, I found myself speaking the sentences aloud, as I do sometimes to road-test the idea. The to-me-from-me reaction: “That’s not terrible”…a variation on the time-honored New Yorkism “That doesn’t suck.”
Why do we do that?
What is it about us that keeps us an arm’s reach from being comfortable with praise—even the praise we offer ourselves? What makes that discomfort more seemly, more modest? And what makes us feel that anti-praise is so much more richly deserved?
The psychology is too deep to contemplate here. But the markers are easy to understand. Writing is an endless exercise in perfectionism. We do what we do. We do it again. And again. Until the music rises. Passages that sing from the first note are rare. Divine discontent is as necessary to our repertoires as our laptops. The trick, the talent, is not letting the off-key moments throw the work into chaos; to weight us until we sink under the surface of hope.
The same exercise that purifies us is one that can exhaust us. We look into our own faces and spit into our own eyes. Writing is tough enough without such relentless self-criticism. And being on top of that understanding, even for a moment…that doesn’t suck.
July 7, 2014 in Arts, Books, Creativity, Failing, Fiction, Language, The Novel, Uncategorized, Why we write, Writers, Writing, Writing a Book, Writing technique | Tags: Authors, Books. Arts, creativity, writers, writing | 2 comments
Are we more confident by day than by night? Or are we just stupider?
By day, we writers are creature of light, drawing energy from an optimistic inner sun. We are fearless and confident. Problems in the work are merely possibilities as yet undiscovered. Give it time, we tell ourselves; it will all come right.
By night—especially at the end of long days at the page—we are weak-willed drivellers. The moments that delighted us, the romance in the words, are caught in a vortex of crippling despair. We are doubtful about the whole product. We are afraid. We are terrified breathless.
Day is strength. Night is doubt. The story we loved at noon is hopelessly idiotic at nine. The characters are vapid; the plot, vaporous. What the hell were we thinking? And why the hell have we been thinking it for three years?
There is no way around the pink elephant in the room. We tell ourselves and others that this book is just a very different creature, not readily recognizable as a comfortably familiar genre. At night, all we can see is that the elephant is just improbably, halluncinogenically pink, nothing more.
At night, our daylit confidence dissolves. Our optimistic regard of our talents melts like frost under a heat lamp.
Day tells us that hard work will, eventually, get us where we want to be.
Night tells us that we are talentless shlubs that no effort can possibly redeem.
Now the too-polite smiles will come. The friends who have professed eagerness to read the work will not finish it. Or they won’t comment on it. Or it will just disappear from the list of things you talk about together. They won’t tell you why, for fear of the hurt that you and they both know will result.
Now the doubts will come. The certainty that we will forever be relegated to the limbo of the mediocre-almost; of the hobby writer; of the dabbler. The worst place in the world for a dedicated wordsmith to be.
Which is why I’m going to bed. To not-think. To let my tired brain wait for the day to recharge it. To delude myself afresh—or to find my hope again. Both. Or neither. Over and over and over again.
Just discovered way out there in the way-out-there: a cool dwarf star that’s been reduced to its carbon elements—in a sense, a space-set diamond. In the chip-it-off/polish-it-up phase of writing that I’m in now, I see plenty of parallels.
By now, I’ve scraped down to the mineral. Blown the dust away. Trimmed off the more ill-considered cuts. Some parts of the work shine. Some flaws exist deep in the body of the work, too deep to be reached by even the most skilled diamond cutter’s art. Some I hope that the reader will be too in love to see. All are mine.
In the setting, in the characters—in some passages that pierce the eye with their brightness—I can only hope that the effort, the skill, have been sufficient to bear their precious load. The setting is made of a mettle (pun intended) unfamiliar, suspended between magic realism and the grittier stuff of the street; between spray-painted walls and the canvas of Conscience. I love this book. I hope that love will be enough.
An idea comes to the writer on one knee and makes a solemn request. The ask tickles us; leaps inside us. And yet, acceptance comes with a pause built in. Even as we accept, we know that the joy of the relationship must end. All books end in a separation, of sorts—those “we will always care for one another” moments in which the physcial presence of the great affection is remembered but absent.
This is the time of physical symptoms. Of dread and flatness. The words and passages remain the beautifully-set gem that reminds us how things were once. The time when the work and the so-real people in it sang to us. Where happily-ever-after seemed, for a very short time anyway, as if it would last forever.
For now—for the last of now—the thing shines like a diamond. And in a part of me (and, with luck, in a part of the reader’s heart) it always will.
June 5, 2014 in Arts, Books, Creativity, Fiction, Inspiration, The Novel, Why we write, Writers, Writing, Writing a Book | Tags: Arts, Authors, books, creativity, writers, writing, Writing in public | 3 comments
Jury duty. It happens.
It’s a responsibility I take seriously—although I haven’t yet had to draw the line at the kind of cases that would demand my excusing myself. And, as I waited to be called for a panel, another kind of learning.
A woman was sitting within my sightline. Young. Serious. Had her little laptop open, writing something. I watched her, trying to get a clue from the pages’ formatting what it was she was working on. I had brought my laptop, thinking that I would use any lengthy delay to do what the young woman was doing.
A page is impossible for me to tackle when I know I’ll soon be interrupted. But there was something more significant for me in the hesitation. I found that I couldn’t devalue the act by carrying it out in a public place. Writing in that court waiting room would no longer have been the magnificent act that demands everything of me; it would have been expediency.
What we do in private, and what we share with the world are two very different things.
For some, writing is extroversion. Or concentration so perfect that the world goes away. Not for me.
Having 15 minutes is not like having 15 wonderful ones. One does not make love on a street corner. The world is too present. The energy of passersby and higher skies do not make the act richer. I am the writer of the closed room and drawn curtain. We love in the light, but we love apart from all, in magnificent isolation.
Was it insincere, what the young woman was doing; an affectation? Of course not. Is there a right way to work, a right environment? Of course not. She did what she was comfortable doing. And so do I. I will never be a writer who works in cafes and coffeehouses and waiting rooms. My public displays of affection will be confined to kisses and handholding. The rest is a series of acts in a most personal of spaces. This writing is mine. Until it’s ready to fly free to a heart other than mine.
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.
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.
February 5, 2014 in Arts, Books, Creativity, Fiction, The Novel, Writers, Writing, Writing technique | Tags: A Book, A Novel, Arts, Authors, Being a Writer, books, creativity, Fiction, Literature, novels, THE Writing Process, Writing Process | 1 comment
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.
February 3, 2014 in Arts, Books, Creativity, Fiction, Language, Spirituality, The Novel, Why we write, Writers, Writing, Writing a Book, Writing technique | Tags: A Book, A Novel, Arts, Authors, books, creativity, Dreams, Fiction, Inspiration, The Novel, THE Writing Process, writers, Writing A Book | 3 comments
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.