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The word is yes.

Sleep. And inspiration. The writer’s gifts to herself.

Commerce demanded the first few hours of my Saturday. I grumbled about it; found the bright side:  I had the office to myself—a place that is, after all, only three blocks away. Two hours to duty. The rest of the day to myself.

I was a house on fire. In a good way.

I was focused. Clear. Not tentative. The chapter was not as much of a shambles as I’d feared; the days of finicking and fiddling and worry were evident on the page.

Work. Sleep. Repeat.

Sunday morning, the gift. The yes.

Coffee as usual. And at 8:30 a.m., a moment to glance at the work ahead before seeing to the neglected tasks of self-improvement in the gym downstairs. A moment that turned the day:

I looked at the work behind and the work ahead, and I said yes. I gave myself permission to do nothing else, nothing more, than exactly what I was doing at the moment. To give myself the gift of the best of my energy; to give the best of myself to the best of the day.

The chapter’s ask was an exacting one. First to last, it required an elemental change in the POV character…to take her—and through her eyes, the main character—from who she was all the way to the wonder of a world. To show us for the first time, how remarkable the title character will be. To let us know that everything is about to change. It is the moment in which the guts and heart of the book take hold. It is the last chance to ask the reader to commit before the story goes forward. A formidable task.

I didn’t leave the couch all day. I wrote. I thought. I edited. I added to the work, built it, all the way to chapter’s end. I stopped only for quick bites of food, eaten standing, and mugs of drinkables. I warmed myself at the fire inside. I gave myself to me. All because I said yes.

The power in that small, single word.

I was up far later than I should have been, listening in the dark to the readback. That the chapter needed work, that it still does, is not such a scary thing today. I am tired and happy. I will be the closet curmudgeon all day, reining in my secret tendency to snark. I will hold out doggedly against what I face in commerce. I will still feel the tug of the undertow that is my inner riptide of doubt.

But I’ll keep at it. I’ll find a way to face what I fear. Because this is one of those blessed days at the end of a blessed weekend in which I remind myself who I am. And what I do.  And what I must do.

I write.

 

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Do parents ever get tired of their children?

I don’t mean momentarily tired, like “Go play in your room for a while” tired. I mean tired—like I-never-want-to-see-you-again tired.

That’s what I’m feeling for the work in progress right now.

A troubling emotion…or lack of one. I don’t remember feeling this for the last book, a work I still love. This book is longer. More plotty. Right now, I want it to go away.

I have just finished—well, maybe finished—a section that should be thrilling me. All I feel is tired. I can no longer tell, at this stage, what is good and what is self-indulgent tripe. I can’t find the pace in the story, although I know it’s there. I can’t find the magic in the passages I know I love. It is all distressingly familiar.

Well, of course it is.

I love this book, but it has sat on my shoulders for nearly two years. I have been sitting in the same room with the thing for every minute of my waking life for what feels like forever. It was worn me ragged. Rather than telling myself that it was all a waste of time, rather than throwing my laptop in the trash and myself in after it, I have opted to push my emotions away for a time.

Maybe this is a defense mechanism…a pre-empting of my fear for ending the book and all that the ending represents. Maybe the thing IS self-indulgent tripe, after all, and I’m just being honest with myself. Maybe I am just mentally exhausted.

I don’t know what it is. I barely know what I am, or who.

I know that this grinchiness won’t last. Tomorrow will be different. Maybe tonight will be. Maybe all will be well in five minutes—the most likely scenario. What I need is to finish. To set this work aside and throw myself into the tides of the next one. To go for a long walk on the empty beach of myself. To accidentally bump into the love of my life—me.

Forgive me, children of my heart. Mommy really, truly does love you. Mommy just needs to be quiet for a while.

 

[UPDATE: Better today. Better. Mommy just needs her coffee….]

 

 

A Radiohead song. From In Rainbows. A phrase that got me. “Your eyes, they turn me.”

Something about that phrase. Something evocative; something like the unexpected uses of words I try to achieve in my own writing.

Made me think.

Thom Yorke returns to certain ideas again and again. Allusions to oceans pop up frequently. David Byrne has his own faves, seeded through the body of his work.

We all do.

We strive for freshness; inventiveness. We try to take the page to places that we have never gone. We try for words that surprise our inner writer-ear. The best thing that can happen to us (well, one of the best, anyway) is to look back and be astonished that, yes indeedy, the marvelous passage we’re seeing did come out of us.

But sometimes our own brains cheat us.

By accident, by unconscious design—or sometimes through shameless self-indulgence—we borrow from ourselves. I remember looking back at my first novel, published in the 80s. Some cringingly bad stuff in there, the mistakes of a first-time novelist…but some pretty breathtaking stuff, too. And some stuff that was disconcertingly familiar: recently-evoked images that I thought I’d plucked whole and new from the air, there in a work from umpty years ago. Oh dear.

Where do these things come from, these images? Not from anything we’ve seen with our human eyes. Why, then, do they persist? Do we have the same word-angel sitting on our shoulders—an angel with a limited vocabulary? Does our doorway to the infinite open only on a view that’s a lot more limited than we thought? Or are we just being lazy?

I keep a list when I’m writing a novel. A list of words to watch out for. Keeping such a list lets me go back at the final polish and, with the help of the “Find” function, make sure I don’t overuse a phrase; that I’ve saved it for the most impactful place. But the occasional phrase I deliberately borrow from myself: That is part homage to a thing I loved, part realization that no one will notice but me. Unless, of course, I someday find myself with a crazy mental stalker (like myself) who is attentive to every word.

In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for the newness…and fooling myself that I’ve found it.

 

Don’t know about you. Don’t know whether this is the Condition of All Writers, or just the Condition of Me…but moments of doubt have been leaving messages, lately, on my mental answering machine.

These are the moments of whaaaa’? Moments of what-am-I-doing? Moments of uncertainty. And they are not my friends.

These moments are useful, sometimes. Educational. And wretched. They co-exist with moments of wide-eyed delight and cool-eyed assessment. They make us better writers. And they make us miserable.

“Have confidence in your talent,” came the advice from a cherished mentor, “and keep moving.”

Easy to say. Less easy to do, sometimes.

One wants to be confident. One wants to recognize that what one feels today, is not what one will feel tomorrow. Or even in ten minutes. One wonders how it is that other folks manage that strength that lets them proceed with unquestioned confidence; how others recover from the daily setbacks that are the built-ins of a writer’s life. How does one deal with the “might be” when the “is” is not enough?

Whence comes the strength to cope?

So here are the questions of the day: How do you deal with the writerly downs of yourself? How do you recover?

Let me hear from you.

Lots of thinking, lately. Lots of broken nights. Lots of logistics and decisions.

There’s also been time to write. And, although my brain has been a little scattered an unfocused, although those joyous bolts from the blue have been few in recent days, I keep chipping away at it. And thinking about it.

Which brings me to a magical device. The chapter title.

Chapter titles are the literary equivalent of a great advertising headline, an irresistible direct mail opener, the above-the-fold lead paragraph of an online story. They tickle, they tease, they seem to promise, the misdirect, they lie outright. They tell the chapter’s deepest secrets—or seem to. They point backwards, a reminder of something important to remember. They are truth, spoiler, forecast. They are none of the above.

Chapter titles are the hint that stokes the reader’s interest even before the chapter’s opening paragraph has a chance to work its magic. A good chapter title forges an odd bond of understanding between writer and reader…one that’s all the more fun once the reader gets a sense of the writer’s style.

I’ve been known to head a chapter with a word that I know will send folks straight to the dictionary to discover the title’s meaning…a treasure hunt; interactive reading. I’ve been known, in the chapter headline, to fib. I have given away the store.

I tried heading chapters with numbers only. Not nearly as much fun. Like a box of crayons in which the red one is off limits. Like a Dr. Pepper without the fizz. That glorious plot devise that happens in the fewest available words:  I don’t think I’ll ever write another thing without it.

In the book that’s in the works now, one of the main characters (in a circumstance I won’t reveal here) finds herself thinking “How the hell did that happen?”

I had a weekend like that. In a good way.

Some times, some weekends, serve up more than you ever expected; ever hoped for. The good stuff seems to happen by itself.

I had no reason to expect that it would. After a few weeks of worrying about—and at—the current chapter and the progression of the chapters that would follow, I realized suddenly that I was wrong. All wrong. The plot that should be moving forward, at this point, like a tank was moving forward, backward, and forward again.

The plot was tying itself in a knot. The plot-logic, the emotional logic, weren’t there.

Panic. Everything I had planned to do…all the mental and emotional preparation I’d spent days ramping up for—gone in an instant. And yet, that wasn’t the way things turned out.

The new order (even though it meant starting at a place about which I wasn’t nearly prepared) opened doors that I never expected. Complex directions were instantly, perfectly clear. The validation of a character’s reason-to-be. A wholeness that had not existed before.

That’s one of the joys of writing. The things that happen by surprise. The choices that you didn’t know you’d made, stepping forward and asserting their wisdom; the ideas you didn’t know you’d had in your head, coming together of their own will.

Thank you, book. Thank you brain. And you, the ability to surprise myself: Thank you most of all.

With everything in my head–a couple of thorny spots in the current passage, an unresolved plot need, no weeknight time to get up a proper head of steam…and, frankly, one of those thankfully-infrequent sessions of “What the eff do you think you’re playing at?”–leave it to my dreams to do what they always do: tell the truth.

Last night’s dream was about trying to get to a hotel whose name I had on a small scrap of paper. The paper was the only way I could identify my destination; I lived in terror of misplacing it–without it, my only alternative would have been to get on the plane and go back home. The city was unfamiliar (though it was the size and busy-ness of NY), the streets unknown to me. I couldn’t get a cab; most of them seemed to be off-duty. The hotel was too far away to reach on foot.

At last, filled with an urgency to get where I was going (for reasons unclear to me), I got on the subway. The destination, I was told, was an intersection of streets a few blocks northwest of the end of the line. The train ride was long; the residential neighborhood an unlikely place for a hotel. I started walking in the direction I’d been given…then realized I might be walking in the wrong direction. I woke before I could sort things out and get to my destination.

So goes life. These mental hiccups will work themselves out. I have no doubt of it. But in the meantime, I’ll be smart to pay attention to what my sleeping brain is reporting back to me about my waking life. There is truth in dreams.

I’m feelin’ it. So I’m gonna write it. Got to.

A saying that has always resonated with me is this: “Don’t suffer future pain.” But I can’t help it. I am about to lose some of those nearest and dearest to me.

It makes absolutely no difference that the loves-lost are fictional. The hurt is real. And especially after six uninterrupted days in their company, soul-speaking, suffering and smiling with them, the pain that stands in my eye’s horizon is immense. The end is probably no more than five chapters away.

I have lived the affair. The budding characters have grown in my heart. I have been giddy in their company. I have shepherded them carefully through their anguishes and conflicts. I have stood to one side as they have lived their joys. I have revealed them and protected them and forgiven them. One day, way too soon, they will be gone. Launched into the air. And I will be, frankly, a wreck when that happens.

One of the big themes of the book is what you carry of those you love. I will shortly test my own beliefs. I’m not sure what I’ll do. I’m pretty sure I won’t handle it well; I’ve handled the inevitability of real loss much better. I’m expecting tears. I am expecting long hours spent staring at walls. I am expecting to wander blind.

That’s part of the madness in the redemptive beauty of this writing thing. But even knowing that, I could no more hold myself away from it than I could imagine living without love–even love that is not, will never be, real.

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