I’m writing a book, did you know that? Have I said it out loud? I’ve been so afraid of saying it out loud because then people will ask me things like “how is the book coming along?” An innocent question, except I associate it with PRESSURE! THE PRESSURE IS ON! EVERYBODY KNOWS 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 really say this, or let it stop me, but it’s in my nature to want to, and so I struggle the teensiest bit.
Did you know it’s common for authors to spend 2-7 years on their books? It varies depending on size and time spent researching, but still, I feel like nobody realizes this. I’ve given myself what feels like a cushy four years to complete my book because it’s something I do on the side. It’s not my primary job. I still have a preschooler at home some days, I also write a weekly blog, plus have to do things like grocery shop, keep our clothes clean, workout and cook dinner every night. So four years seems reasonable to me. Anytime I tell somebody about that four year goal, they seem very unimpressed. People think writing brilliantly is easy and quick work. Meanwhile, I’m never sure I can actually do it. And much of what I’ll write in the next four years will never make it into the book. That is the way it is. Realtors show several houses before someone will make an offer on a property, IF they make an offer at all, and writing drafts and stories is a bit like that. There’s an lot of time spent on the the hope your writing efforts will pay off, but you just never know until the fat lady sings.
My father-in-law heard me talking about how sometimes I sit to write but can’t complete my essay’s. He heard me tell of other times I start essay’s but then put them on hold because I don’t know the ending yet. 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 I need while I actively forget about it. It usually works. Maybe a month later I’ll be listening to a podcast and something will be said that relates back to my unfinished essay which will in turn remind me of something else and then all of a sudden, I realize what the ending should be.
After I told him this, my father-in-law, somewhat amused, said “you mean your writing just doesn’t pour out of you?”
Ha. HA. HAAAAAA!
I told him that sometimes it did, but it’s hard to measure because a lot of time, stories that pour out of me to completion are all first drafts anyway. Editing and writing when it doesn’t pour out of you, is a more lengthy, complicated and mystical process.
I used to think writers just sat down and wrote effortlessly the first time, in one sitting, and that was that. My blog posts are written more like this. However, my blog posts are not composed of writing that challenges me. I publish here regularly so the amount of time I spend on any one post is limited. These blog posts are all mostly just first drafts with minor edits. Some I spend more time on, but it’s not the normal rule. But writing, writing? Like, real, good writing? That’s not how it is at all. That kind of writing tends to be much more involved.
It’s hard to explain my process but I think of it like this: I’ve got 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’re all spread out and unorganized, I can’t really grasp, in it’s entirety, what I think and believe about anything without gathering all the right file folders, containing all the right information, and then looking at it all together, like pieces of a puzzle finally being brought together. When I see it all written out clearly I can be like “ahh, there you are! THAT’S what I think! I knew I knew!”
Except this blessed event only happens once you know where all the right folders are that contain all the right information you are looking for. But 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.
Which sounds slightly depressing, but I find it to be an interesting and slightly magical process.
Like anyone else, I vaguely understand how I feel about most things. This allows me to engage in conversations around the dinner table, and this also means I know the general direction an essay of mine will go. This helps me get started with the writing process. However, when it comes to other needed aspects, I have to wait until the right words come to me. This usually feels less like someone else feeding me exact words and more like a flash of recognition in what another says. It’s a hint. Someone will mention something in the movie I’m watching or in line at the grocery store and my ears will perk up. This flash is like someone appearing in my brain, amongst all the file folders giving me a hint saying “you’re getting hot. Getting colder, okay now warmer, hotter, BURNING HOT!” until I look down and find the folder I needed. That’s the only way I can describe it.
This is why I write.
Because when I finish a piece I’m proud of, that also accurately expresses what’s in my insides (or at least comes close) 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 think about the world.
Flannery O’ Connor said “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
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 I think 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 just should have kept quiet. I only served to inarticulately scratch the surface of what I really think with my spoken responses.” 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 eloquent of speech. And so writing is redeeming. When I do it well it’s such a comfort. My good writing whispers back to me “Thank God. You do have interesting, original and thoughtful things to say. I knew it! You had me worried for a while.”
Each day I hear messages on podcasts and movies or 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, 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 I was a full grown adult, not too many years ago. Isn’t that weird? And now a book?
I didn’t decide to become a writer so much as the realization that I was one happened to settle in one day. And it came as such a surprise.
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.”