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We hear voices, writers do. A word, a thought, an expression, a rhythm, an idea.

In the sweet silence of our self-defined isolation, we close ourselves off from what the eyes can see, uncork the tops of our heads and let the universe float in. We marry the invisible. We know mystery. And joy. And ecstasy.

We don’t try for this, not deliberately—not in the blessed woolgathering phase of a book’s creation, anyway. Is just…is.

Charles Wright called it “the silence that turns the silence off.” But sometimes, in that silence, in that waiting, we are alone.

Without the voices, who are we?

I’ve been living in the limbo between worlds, facing the realities of selling the current book while making space in the head for the next one. I have three books in the hopper, and energy enough to work toward selling only one of them at a time.

And the silence right now is only silence.

Knowing doesn’t help. Knowing that the voices will rise in me like a choir. Knowing that my voice will find a shape. And an audience.

But now, the high, tight ringing in my ears is the only thing that comes close to a word from elsewhere. The characters and the world they inhabit still stand at a stubborn distance, knowing what they know, yet sharing none of it with me.

I am the slow-witted, patient animal in the empty field, waiting for her master’s call; hearing nothing but the damndest silence.

Sing, self. I’m ready.

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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.

Long days in the office and the limited energy they leave in their wake. Too few hours left, claimed by too many things. Cooking dinner. Eating it. Feeding cats. Changing clothes. To exercise or not in those rare remaining minutes. Or to write.

This is what I want.

To spend time with me. And with my characters. To immerse in the mind of a man who knows that this will be, if all goes well, the last night of his life; the man observed by a woman who is trying desperately not to believe what she knows to be true. The reality of the things you can’t un-know.

What I want: I want to be in love. And I am.

It is a sacred trust, this partnership with the invisible. One gives all or gives nothing. To be full of the melancholy of it, to be a paper boat on its rough waters, to dive so deep that there is no other night, no other room, no other person; a writer owns a gift that is closest to being in love—which may be why so many of us exist without love’s outward manifestation.

The ecstatic lives here. All possibility does. And in that inconstant realization is the thing that conquers despair and defeat and the challenges of not-good-enough. Do we have our crippling doubts? Yes. Always will. But the grace of moments like these when the Unseen smiles at me, when I’m actually looking across the room at the person who was the physical print of the main character, when I know that in a few minutes I will run home and throw myself to the created world as if it were a lover waiting between smooth sheets…I’m holding up my end of the partnership. The things I sacrifice are not sacrifices at all: They are choices gladly set aside for a greater, grander choice.

This is the life I live because I choose it to be so. A silence that is far, far from empty; a self that is fully self, fully given. Isn’t that what love is?

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.

An experiment that led to an idea that led to a question.

I opened my head and let the words spill out. Into a tape recorder, during a wide-awake evening visited by no special muses. Hmmmm.

I often use the tape recorder for late-night visitations of phrase or plot or character. I am often found with my head bent over my desk, trying to catch some flitting thought with the butterfly net of my microphone. I have recited long, outlined sequences to get my head around their slippery substance. But opening the heart and letting fly, never.

Have I unearthed a viable technique? Riffing a scene without plan or forethought…then transcribing those notes into Word as the literal bones of the chapter?

Throwing and idea off the top of one’s head, to learn later whether it is real and writeable—a scary thing.

There are several asks in the task, I think; several requirements. The writer/reciter must be fearless. Like dreams written down in half-sleep, what is revealed in daylight may well be complete crap. Listening to what is spoken live and unconsidered is terrifying stuff.

To pull off this impossible feat, I think that one must be in love with the sound of one’s own voice. To hear one’s self cough up garbage, one must grow a thick skin. To listen to crap—as enthusiastic and well-intentioned as it might be—is to court shame. One must face down one’s own capacity for bullshit and stupidity; must be fearless in the very real possibility that we will discover how absolutely ordinary our brains are. Great notions aren’t always great—even if we convince ourselves that they are.

Perhaps the value of the exercise is in the exercise itself, rather than in what the exercise reveals. The on-your-toes of it. The open Chakras of it. The no-fear of it. And, of course, the off-chance that something surprisingly good will come of it; that we will indeed see some tiny brilliance that we struggle so hard to believe is alive in us.

Riffing, live. Fear and love. At the same time. The endless and essential challenge of being a writer.

Dear Universe,

Please remember that I am here.

I have dedicated myself to cosmic service, trying to forge the link between you and all of us; to help us find our place in the Greater Thing. I count on you to hand down the occasional crumb. To point me toward the idea.

When I lay my brain open to let the Big Whatevers come in, I’m not asking for the thunderbolt (although that would be nice)—I am asking for a whisper that will remind me I’m not alone in here. I’m asking you to remember me when luck is being passed around.

No, I am not expecting payback. Not for the hour upon hour spent touristing around the ethers. Not for the isolation. Or the removal from the Real. Not payback for anything. Just a small sharing of the Abundance Unseen. A way to know that the small, still voice is being heard.

I’m having a hard time finding the door. I am small and unconnected. I know that the Greater Thing turns on its own axis, in its own time. Slow me to its revolution. Give me that at least.

We are made of the same stuff, shapeable, some say, to our Wills. Show me that.

Show me something.

Today, the Writer needs it. Much.

 

A writer’s experiment, this. To see what wonder I can pull out of the morning, without a thought going into it.

Saw a quote, recently, on a FB feed to which I subscribe. A quote from William Morris, whose work I have loved for years. “Have nothing in your life,” the quote read (or something like it—this is too early for me to go hunting) “that is not useful or beautiful or both.”

I have writing.

The difference in this writer between the abandonment of her life and her reclaiming of it is a marked one. My world is divided into two parts, BW and AW: Before Writing and After Writing. This is by far the happier one.

I was recalling to a lunch companion something that had happened a number of years ago; realized that this was a time before my work and I had found one another again. How empty that memory seemed. The horror.

To co-opt the Morris quite, writing is, in my life, both beautiful and useful. It is the glory of a man who gathers souls to himself, to give them a place to rest on their journey. It is the sacrifices of love. It is a man who pursues himself to the ends of the physical universe. It is a character who conjures light out of his deepest despair. These are the beauties among which I am permitted to reside.

And it is useful. The filling of a life. The joy that a lifelong reader feels—but from the other side of that looking glass. The challenges (and, yes, even the doubts and the awfulnesses) that one must master. Food for the mind that keeps the soul alive.

Writing can be a meditation, a workout, a balancing act, if you let it be. Especially on days when one is inclined to pull wonder out of air.

Thursday-tired—that unique and special brand of tired. Too tired to think much, to do much. Too tired to try to break the back of the chapter as I’d planned to do. The work of gutting the thing and massively rearranging its flow asked an effort far more extreme than the nibbling around the edges that has been my contented occupation on other tired nights lately.

Instead of climbing that personal mountain, I gave myself the guilty pleasure of one of the few TV shows that I actually like. Not much of a surprise that afterward I was seized with the aching need to validate my existence by going back to the page.

So. With only 90 minutes before bedtime, I ripped out the diseased section—seven of eleven pages…a massive toll. Set the chapters onto a workspace of their own and started pasting them back together in a rough new order. Knew that the polish wouldn’t be there; hoped instead for the lightning to strike, for the emotional logic to assert itself.

And there something happened that I had not, had never, imagined.

As when one startles-awake the proofreading eye by reading text backwards rater than forward, I saw the chapter in a new way. I saw how hollow the thing was. A house built on a foundation of straw. Some good bricks in there…some potentially great ones. But a yawn everywhere in between. A chapter that didn’t move the plot, that had no internal propulsion or emotional richening.

And here’s the thing: I wasn’t scared.

Sometimes, the realization that you’ve got nothing is a stark and terrifying thing; a disheartening and defeating one. How in hell could you have attacked the work with such commitment and confidence days ago, only to find in the harsh mental daylight that you’d been blowing smoke up your anatomy all along?

And why didn’t that knowing trouble me tonight?

Do we, in our weariness and optimism, ignore the little voice in the head that’s been saying, “ehhhhh, maybe” all along? Did we tell ourselves that the thing was better than it actually was for no other reason than because we needed it to be? And is it not the acknowledgement what is wrong the bravest, most optimistic step toward what is right?

That’s the kind of clarity I’ve been waiting for. Even with the prospect of a torturous restructuring ahead, even with the sheer volume of work and self-doubt that comes with it, I’ll take it. From satisfaction comes adequate output. The good stuff? That comes from the challenge.

It’s what writers do when they’re tired. What writers do when they feel the need to be doing something, but are way too burnt to do anything big.

We nibble.

We read. We read again. We change a word, a rhythm, a clunky sentence. We don’t have the mental energy to turn the chapter over to our most critical eye; don’t have the time to do the slash and burn that the chapter might well need.

It’s like trying to eat a wax pear. In the dark.

We nibble.

We take little bites around the edges of the work. We hope that we’ll chew through to the greater meaning. We hope that maybe we can set aside how tired we are just long enough for something good to happen. We try to forget how hungry for inspiration we are.

Nibbling.

This is not creative sustenance. It is a pauper’s meal. The bowl in Oliver Twist’s hands, nowhere near the “more, please.” The silent film comedian salting a photo of a steak. We rattle around in the silverware drawer in the dark, knowing that there’s nothing on the plate. Our imaginations are growling inside us, and the growl is the loudest sound in the room.

Nothing we can do will make is better. All we can do is wait for the food; hope for it, work for it. And try to be strong enough to accept a dish that we might not like. In order to keep ourselves alive.

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