Today, I’m writing a chapter called “Somebody To Love.” I looked down at my shirt and thought, “well this is serendipitous,” so, naturally, I took a selfie.
Oh, yeah – I’m writing a book, did you know that? Have I said it out loud? I’ve been afraid of saying it out loud, because then people ask me things like, “How is the book coming along?”
An innocent question, except I’ll associate with it as PRESSURE! THE PRESSURE IS ON! EVERYBODY KNOWS NOW SO YOU HAVE TO DELIVER! MAKE SURE IT’S GOOD!
I hear this is motivating to some people. Accountability and all that. For me, however, it has the opposite affect. I have a tendency to want to self-sabotage anytime pressure, real or perceived, enters the mix. I’ll be like, “Oh you want to know how the book is coming? How about NOT AT ALL because I can’t subject myself to living up to your expectations of what I’m doing.”
I don’t let it stop me, but it is my nature to want to. I struggle the teensiest bit with it.
Did you know it’s very common for authors to spend 2-7 years on their books? It varies, but I feel like nobody realizes this. Originally, I gave myself a cushy four years to complete my book. Anytime I’d tell somebody about that four year goal though, they’d seem very unimpressed. I think people think that writing well is easy and quick work. But writing is at best, an unpredictable and disorganized process. I’m never sure I can actually do it. And much of what I’ll write will never make it into the book. That is the way it is. Realtors have to show several houses before someone makes an offer on a property – that is, IF they make an offer at all, and writing drafts and stories is a bit like that. There’s a lot of time spent on the the hope your writing efforts will pay off or work, but you just never know until the end.
I don’t have a four year goal anymore. I have a “write it as fast as I can” goal now. You may have noticed my posts around here have become less frequent. It’s because of the damn book. I’m not going anywhere, it’s just going to be a tad spotty for a bit. I do hope you will excuse me.
My father-in-law heard me talking about how sometimes I start essays, but then put them on hold because I don’t know the ending yet or where it’s going. Or because I thought it was going one place, but it headed in another direction and well—now what the hell do I do with it? When this happens I have no choice but to let it go for a while. I do this by telling my mind to please subconsciously sniff out the answer while I actively forget about it. It usually works. Maybe a month later I’ll be listening to a podcast or reading an article and something will be said that reminds me of my unfinished essay, which will in turn remind me of a specific point I’d like to make and then all of a sudden, I realize what the ending should be.
After I told him this, my father in law, somewhat surprised, said, “You mean your writing just doesn’t just pour out of you?”
Ha. HA. HAAAAAA!
Well actually, a lot of times it does. But it’s hard to measure how much because stories that pour out of me to completion are all just first drafts anyway. Editing is a much more lengthy, complicated process.
I used to think writers just sat down and wrote perfectly the first time, in one sitting and that was that. My blog posts are written more like this. However, my blog posts are not examples of writing that challenges me. I have to publish here a lot and so because of that, the amount of time I can spend on any one post is limited. This is freeing and has an upside. It curbs my idealistic nature. These blog posts are all mostly just first drafts with one edit. I spend more time on some, but it’s not the normal rule. But writing, writing? Like, book writing? That’s not how it is at all. That kind of writing tends to be much more involved. Five edits and then reworking the thing. Reworking the rework another two times. Smoothing out sentences so they read well. There’s a lot of rephrasing that happens.
It’s hard to explain my process but I think of it like this: I’ve got something like a hundred thousand file folders in my head, and each of these folders contains small bits of information that together, make up what I know and believe about everything.
However because there are so many folders and they are all spread out and unorganized, I can’t really grasp, in it’s entirety, what I think and believe about anything. In order to accomplish that, I’d have to gather all the right file folders, containing all the right information, and then look at it together, like pieces of a puzzle finally being brought together. It’s then that I have lightbulb moments. “ahh, there you are! THAT’S what I think!
Except this blessed event only happens once you know where all the folders are that contain the information you are looking for. But at the start, you don’t. You can take educated guesses, and you may know where some of the information is located, but the rest? It’s an Easter egg hunt in a field of one hundred thousand eggs.
That’s basically what writing is for me. It’s a process of hunting down all the right folders of information, when I don’t know where the hell they are located, in attempt to put fully formed thought and feeling to words. Sometimes, it actually happens too.
Maybe writing fiction is different?
Like anyone, I vaguely understand how I feel about most things at all times, I’ll sense the general direction in which an essay of mine will go, which helps me get started. I sense certain things about my given topic so I’ll start there, but when it comes to other needed aspects required to fill out a story, I have to wait until the right words come to me. When they do, it’s immensely satisfying.
This is why I write.
Because when I finish a piece that accurately expresses what’s in my insides, it’s like I’ve taken the bits and pieces from all the folders and put them together into a new folder that makes sense and is not scattered. All the puzzle pieces appear perfectly organized and the picture they display looks like an accurate representation of my thoughts. It’s such a relief.
It’s how I discover what I actually think about the world.
Nicole Krauss said, “Why does one begin to write? Because she feels misunderstood, I guess. Because it never comes out clearly enough when she tries to speak. Because she wants to rephrase the world to take it in and give it back again differently, so that everything is used and nothing is lost…”
I’m always so delightfully surprised when I read something back of mine and can nod my head in recognition: “Yes! Yes, that’s what I think! What a marvel!” But it’s because I don’t communicate as well when I speak. Every time I open up my mouth, I sense all these deeper and more thoughtful things just beneath the surface, lurking in some far away folder, and I can never seem to get to it. I always leave conversations thinking, “I should have kept quiet.” It feels like I’ve let myself down. Like I’m deficient in some way. I feel misunderstood by no fault of anyone listening, but by my own self, because I’m simply not always eloquent of speech. Writing is a redemptive process for me. When I do it well, it’s a comfort.
Each day I hear people talking in interviews or in movies, or I read things in books and articles. I’m bombarded with information. I find most satisfaction when I can take in those messages, sit with them, and figure out what I alone think of them, and then figure out where the holes may be, where the merit may be, instead of accepting at face value. I use the information as a jumping off point in an attempt to discover what’s really going on. Do I really think that’s true? And then I write about it.
It’s out of this drive to figure things out for myself and uncover what I think, plus the sheer wonder of the process that I’m writing a book. So that I can attempt to “rephrase the world to give it back again differently so that everything is used and nothing is lost.”
IF I can do it well, that is.
And the fact that I do not know whether I can actually do it well, makes it an interesting challenge.
As luck would have it, interesting challenges excite me.
I never knew this would be part of my story. I never knew I liked to read, let alone write until not too many years ago. Isn’t that weird?
And now a book?
I feel like Mark Haddon, who said, “I don’t remember deciding to become a writer. You decide to become a dentist or a postman. For me, writing is like being gay. You finally admit that this is who you are, you come out and hope that no one runs away.”