I recently watched a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, the point of which was to (1) contextualize the upheaval that Eat, Pray, Love caused in her life and self-concept, and (2) inform readers/writers that success is as up-setting of the natural order of one’s life as failure is. I love Gilbert for being so honest about her failures and for reminding me that returning to writing no matter what my external circumstances are is a way to experience what she calls “home.” She says she loved writing more than she hated herself.
At this very moment, as a siren wails in the distance and the smell of last night’s dinner (curry) hangs in the air, and I couldn’t tell you where I fall on the self-hate/writing-love spectrum. Right now, they are woven together, and I can’t tell if it’s a noose or a rope attached to a life boat.
So, writing. I started writing seriously– with goals and publication aspirations– about two years ago. I was 38. The courtship was dazzling, the romance was whirlwindy. The honeymoon was all ocean breezes and incessant sex interrupted only by room service bringing thick-cut bacon and farm-fresh eggs.
Now, we are in a marriage. There’s morning breath. There are dirty dishes in the sink. Writing never sends me flowers any more. There’s petty grievances and hardened resentments that make those early days when I thought Wow, I could seriously write a book seem like youthful folly, not unlike a choir member thinking Wow, I could be the next Mick Jagger.
The business of being intimate with writing is like being in any intimate relationship. Sometimes you want wind the clock back to the days when what stretched before you was endless possibility as far as your eye could see– those days before you set your sights (and heart and soul) on that thing.
Because writing is such a bitch. Do accountants have to grapple with the existential crises? Do they stare at the cloudy heavens and ask Will I ever make it as a comptroller?
Seriously, why is writing such a damn bitch?
And why can’t I quit her?
The other night I said to Jeff with a stone-straight face: I wish I could just quit writing. You can, he said. But I can’t, I cried. I keep opening that document that has the
first second third draft of my book and tinkering. Searching for depth, the spaces to amplify and elucidate. Then, I read The Round House by Louise Erdrich, and I want to stab each part of my cell that carries the desire to write because she’s done it so well and for so long. She’s profound and moving and important– she’s a complete meal with a rich chocolate dessert. My manuscript feels like cotton candy– no protein, no starch begging for butter, no riboflavin-rich vegetables. It’s bubblegum pink. It’s forgettable.
But, I’ll open that document today and I’ll cast about trying to shade the frilly parts into something darker, richer. Something heart-healthy and high in calories. Something with more gravitas. I’ll aim to make her lover more complex. I’ll develop the arc in a more compelling way. I’ll have her eat rocky road instead of vanilla. I’ll draft a scene with her mother that shows from whence the primal ache came.
Then, I’ll close the document and ride the bus home thinking, Why am I doing this? Why not just be a voracious and grateful reader? Why do I need to write a novel?
I’ve memorialized these thoughts thanks to the lovely, hilarious, irreverent, and always authentic Susannah from Whoa, Susannah who tagged me for a blog hop on the subject of writing. I think it was supposed to be a light exercise, so when she reads this ponderous tome, she might unfriend me and stop following my blog. (Bye, Susannah, I love you and we’ll always have the blog hop.)
In the meantime I’ll answer the questions that the other bloggers did and then I’ll tag some writers who may be more cheery on the subject of writing. You know, people who take themselves WAY less seriously.
What am I working on?
Have I mentioned that I’m writing a novel?
How does my writing/work differ from others in the same genre?
Here’s my hope: I hope my protagonist is an intelligent, ambitious, flawed woman with yearnings everyone can relate to and recognize. I’d like her to have a stronger voice and I wish she would tell me how to fix the ending.
Why do I write what I do?
Honest answer? Sometimes I think I undertook the novel in order to become frustrated and have a giant excuse to walk away forever. I’ve never taken a single creative writing class in my life. A novel is a complex art form– why didn’t I start with short stories? Or haikus? Why did it have to be the novel?
When I am not analyzing my subconscious need to sabotage my relationship with writing, I love writing on my blog because it’s fun, it leads to connection and community and it keeps me from losing my marbles over the damn book.
What is my writing process like?
I’m pretty sure you guys have a good sense of how gut-wrenching and sublime the whole thing is. Mostly gut-wrenching.