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Here I am, wandering back into the blogosphere, trying to formulate some sort of thought process worthy of words. I don’t know about the rest of you out there, but periodically I find myself in a sort of cave- woman state, where my verbal repertoire feels limited to grunts and hand gestures. Simply communicating about everyday things like lunch money and who is picking up whom after which after school activity becomes a laborious process. Assessing a suicidal client during a late night ER call is difficult and draining. And writing? Ha! Like playing volleyball with a lead balloon.
I like writing on the days when the words are lined up, bouncing up and down, waving their metaphorical little hands and shouting, “pick me, pick me!” On the days when they behave like teenagers on a Saturday morning when there’s work to be done, and I have to literally drag them out of bed to get them to do anything, writing is just plain old hard work and I’ll do any number of unpleasant tasks to avoid it.
And if I’ll do unpleasant tasks to avoid it, imagine the call of lying on the couch in front of a cheerful fire on a grey September morning, reading a book. I’d like to say that I’m going to work on Gatekeeper today. I’d like to say that I’m going to finish the last surface edit of Filling in the Blanks, which is almost done. But I can come up with a whole list of reasons why I should just do nothing today.
Hey, I’ve been really busy, and my work week next week is beginning to look like something from Dante’s Inferno, so I deserve a break. The economy is…(okay, I do not have an appropriately descriptive word for the economy), Sara Palin frightens me, I’ve been on call the last two nights and didn’t sleep well, and the book I’m reading is getting really interesting. Plus, it’s sorta kinda research for the book I’m writing, so isn’t that really just as good as writing, anyway? Besides, I’m not decisive by nature, and I’ve reached the place in Gatekeeper where I’ll have to make an actual decision about something important, which I suspect will necessitate discarding some writing that I happen to like. I hate making decisions. I hate discarding writing. It’s easier to play ostrich and bury my head in the sand. Oh yeah – taking a day off will be “refilling the well”, (thanks to Julia Cameron) and therefore actually good for my writing.
Okay. They are only excuses. I need to write today and I know it. And I will. Right after I lie on the couch for a bit and read…
My pseudo-supervisor (long story) looked at me hard and long the other day and said, “your problem is, you think too much.” It’s not the first time that I’ve heard these words. David says exactly the same thing. A lot. Like a mantra.
When more than one person, within a 24 hour period of time, delivers a similar sentiment about some personal quality of mine, I figure it’s time to at least consider whether the charge is legitimate.
So I thought about it, too much, and realized that they are probably right. All of that over thinking obscures what is really important. I read things into occurrences and comments that were never there in the first place, I create difficulties where there really were none. And I forget about what is important.
All roads and avenues of thought eventually lead back to my writing, and as I thought about over thinking, I realized that what is important in my writing life is the writing. When I spend too much time thinking about publishers and agents and rejections, when I spend too much time reading the Blogs of other writers who are more disciplined and structured than I am, I lose sight of one very important thing: Why I Write.
I would write if there was no hope of publication. I would write if nobody in the world, ever, was going to read what is created through me. I write because of who I am and what I am meant to do here on this planet. And I do believe in some cosmic “meant to do” list that I’m here to complete. Writing is a soul thing, a drive, a way of being in this world. It’s my job, my task, to get the writing done and send it out into the world. And then it’s out of my hands, and time to move onto the next book.
I don’t ‘create’ my novels as such. They come to me, in glimmers and snatches, newspaper headlines and random people I meet at the grocery store. I’m often surprised by where a story takes me. Somebody the other day, I think it was Diane Gallant, was talking about the difference between “plotters” and “pantsers” – ie., those writers who sit down and plot things out carefully before they begin to write, vs. those of us who make it up as we go along. But, once I got done over thinking that one, I realized that the term “pantser” doesn’t really fit, because I’m not really “making it up.” It’s more like listening. I keep my fingers moving and open a channel to my subconscious, or the collective unconscious, or whatever it is that finds its way out through my fingers, and the story takes shape without a lot of help from me. Of course, once it’s down, it’s my job to shape and polish and prune and tighten, but the initial draft, the rough draft, is an entirely different thing.
As for publication – well, if I’m perfectly honest I’m ambivalent about that. I love the idea of seeing a book with my name on it on a book store shelf. I love the idea of making enough money to quit my day job and live by my writing alone. But when I start thinking about people everywhere reading what I’ve written, I immediately start over thinking again and I worry a lot about what will people think. (I think I’m going to need an entire post on this one.)
The conclusion I have reached in my rambling thoughts, is that I need to stop thinking about where the writing will take me, to continue to send out queries as part of this contract I seem to have with the powers that be, to continue to shape the ideas that come to me for the novel I am working on now, to continue to live in the writing world, not the publishing world, over which I have so little control.
And to remember that, for me, writing is like breathing, and therefore All Writing Counts – journal writing, Blog writing, character sketches, exercises. Everything. (Well, maybe not the grocery list) Because publication is a Goal, but not the Point.
What is the point? Writing, of course. It always comes back, every time, to the writing.
“Send out more queries! Skirr the country round! Hang those that talk of fear!” (Shakespeare, Macbeth, adapted by Trudy Morgan Cole)
My mind is in disarray, my creative impulses have packed their bags and fled for the sunny south, and it’s so noisy in my head I can barely hear myself think. But, it’s about time for an update on the status of the writing front, and all in all, I have to report that things are going pretty well.
I love the mangled quote from Macbeth! I don’t suppose Shakespeare was familiar with the fearful practice of querying agents, but he certainly couldn’t have put it better if he had been! So far, I have two rejections, polite but pleasant, and five more queries still out there. The first two, email queries both, came back with the speed of a boomerang – instant non-gratification. Now we’re engaged in the waiting game – you know, checking the email every five minutes, worrying that the computer’s busted, and going totally postal if the server is down for five minutes.
I splurged, and bought myself a laser printer to go with my new Mac Notebook. Amazing – I can print the entire novel in a matter of minutes, rather than making a day of it. (I know, I know, killing trees with abandon.) The thing is, I can’t seem to edit effectively on an electronic screen. So, even though Filling in the Blanks is complete, and the queries are out, I’ve printed off the whole thing and am hunting through it for those sneaky and elusive typos. Because I can.
In the meantime, I’ve managed to move on. Gatekeeper is underway. The characters are beginning to live in my head, and I’ve got all kinds of big ideas for the complete plot renovation that is so badly needed. I’m also doing research for this one, in my own unstructured and haphazard way. In this case, I’m listening to Classical and Country music, and reading mythology and romance novels. Swimming North is lurking in the back of my head, occasionally sending signals that it would appreciate a little attention as well, but I am definitely not ready to deal with the philosophical challenges it presents. Not yet. But we’re getting there.
Of course, this morning I woke up convinced that all of my books are stupid and I should abandon them and move on. Maybe even move to a galaxy far, far away, where I can find something productive and meaningful to do with my life that has nothing to do with writing. As I’m temporarily out of warp drive capable space ships, however, I guess I’ll be staying put for awhile. And since I’m going to be here, hey, I might as well keep on writing! Especially since it seems to have become a habit I can’t quit.
To those of you out there who are dealing with self doubt and writerly angst – I wish you a day of confidence and the courage to keep on writing and/or querying, depending on where you are in the process. For the supremely confident among you, who don’t need any wishes from me, none the less, I’m sending out a wish for your success. May there be many more books published, and an unlimited supply of people to read them.
(Thanks to Mr. Tennyson for my Blog Title of the day)
Last week, during the Wonders Blog party, I began wondering about “words, and the fact that any of us manage to communicate with each other at all, given our incredibly different world views and the shades of meanings words carry for all of us.”
I’ve been thinking about this all week, in fact. I’m a writer. Words are my world – for me every single one has its own shades of meaning, sometimes an actual color or smell or texture. Putting the right words in place, making sure they all play nicely with each other, that there is harmony and balance as well as meaning, becomes an artistic challenge. Sometimes the music the words make wins out over meaning for me, and I’ll change what I thought I wanted to say in order to accommodate the demands of the language.
However. Presumably, I’m trying to communicate something – to cross the divide of space and understanding that separates me from everybody else on this planet. I have come to believe that putting across any precise or exact meaning is probably impossible. If you doubt this, go sit in a college Literature class as a once beautiful poem or story is dissected. Everybody has an opinion about what the author meant, most of the time probably light years away from what the author intended.
Now, you might say that this is the fault of the author – that she was not specific enough, detailed enough; that she failed in her task of painting her reality for others to share.
I disagree. It occurs to me that what I mean by red and what you mean by red, are probably two completely different things. You might be seeing drops of blood, while I’m seeing a sunset. And no matter how specific I try to be, however I try to paint the color of that sunset for you, we’re still going to run into difficulty. Sunsets are different on the prairie, in the mountains, by the ocean. And even if we are, say, brother and sister, growing up in the same house together, who can say that what I see as red and what you see as red are exactly the same thing.
When I read a beautifully written book, I’m totally unconcerned with what the author intended. All that matters is my experience of the book, what sense the words make to me. Something has been created that speaks to something in me, that strikes a chord that engages my emotion, my interest, my imagination. When I write, of course I consider my audience. Some. I’m more concerned with orchestrating the words and ideas into a pattern that makes sense to me, and then trusting there are others out there who will take interest in the same pattern, even if it speaks to them in a different way.
The same problem, of course, occurs in everyday conversation, only then I’m much more concerned with meaning and don’t care a great deal whether the words are musical or not. And yet the simplest messages go astray. Everything we hear is filtered through our experiences, our beliefs, our understandings, so that what was said and what is received are two entirely different messages. This distortion is abundantly clear to anybody who has ever facilitated a marriage counseling session. She says, “I really need to get out of the house more,” and he hears, “You aren’t helping me with the children.” Now, maybe she meant this. Maybe she was thinking about getting a baby sitter, or taking the kids to the park. You all know what I’m talking about.
Maybe this happens because words are only representations, and never the thing itself. A tree, for example, is not really a tree. We call it that, because it is convenient and that’s the word we were taught as babies. A chair is not really a chair, a cat is not a cat… you get the picture. It gets even more complicated when we move into the realm of the abstract. When we speak of love, for example, how do we know we are talking about the same thing? Even if we refine this, ruling out maternal love and platonic love and settle on romantic love, how do I know that the feeling I get when I think of love, is the same feeling that you experience? At the least our experiences of love are similar enough that most of us can say, “ah, yes, I know what you mean.”
In reality, we probably don’t, but if we believe we do, that has to suffice. We come into this world with a built in need for connection, and spend our lives trying to attain it. Some of us come close. There are people whose experience, whose perception, is near enough to ours that we are confident that we have been understood. With other people, no matter what we say we’ll never get it right. Some of us strive endlessly against the odds, trying to reach people who are fundamentally incapable of understanding what it is we are trying to tell them.
So where am I going with all of this? Nowhere really. Just thinking out loud. One of my novels in the works, Swimming North, deals with this issue and so I am grappling to understand what my book is trying to tell me. Any thoughts on this? I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter.