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Sunday, October 11, 2015

on Suzanne Carver, expert on nothing about writing

Sometimes the Universe prompts me with a gentle nudge- while hunting for a parking spot I will end up in front of a favorite store and decide to pop in only to run into someone I was meant to have a conversation with on that day. Other times the Universe takes the sledgehammer approach.

I must say I prefer the former but am more persuaded by the latter.

No less than 6 people told me that I needed to read Stephen King's On Writing.  I said I would.  I promised I would.  Then my mother, unbeknownst of all these recommendations, bought it for me for my birthday.  Shortly after 3 more people told me, "Oh, you should definitely read On Writing by Stephen King."

Okay fine!  So I am.

Can you see what is coming next?

You need to read Stephen King's On Writing.  Especially if you want to write.  Or if you are like me and you kind of more need to write.

To be honest I am only about 1/3 of the way through it and I love everything about it- the rags to riches story of a hard worker who believed in his dream enough to try, a man who has to dig his way out a pit of alcoholism and the practical advice on writing itself (of which I have only just begun to read).

He talks about writing a first draft of what would become his first book, Carrie, and throwing it in the trash.  While he was at work, his wife (who I have a total soft spot for as the cheerleader and keeper of the flame of hope) took it out of the trash, read it and told him he had something there.

I have been writing every day for the past 8 days.  While this is no world record, it might in fact be a record for me.  I made a commitment to myself to write at least 2 pages in my book for 30 days, starting on October 1st.  (For inspiration to start new habits or end bad ones do yourself a favor and watch this 3 minute TED video on the 30 day challenge.)   A friend shared this video with me on September 30th and when I realized that the next day was the start of a new month, it felt like on elf those subtle nudges from the Universe. It turns out this is a perfect way to build a writing habit  where writing fits in first and other things, like laundry and groceries, fit in around it. I have actual momentum and excitement each day when I sit down.

I'm wondering how my family will take when I say, "There is no food to cook dinner tonight but check out these pages!"

I have just enough self-importance to read On Writing and imagine writing my own memoir, several bestsellers down the road, about how I became an author.   I picture my own made-for-TV movie about how I used to write short stories I intended to turn into books when I was eight. How I won first place in the Mother's Against Drunk Driving essay contest in sixth grade and got a $100 prize, got to meet the Governor and be on the news. How I embarked on my first real attempt at a novel at age 24, compiling 140 pages before deciding it wasn't any good. To the decade I spent being a full time mom and used this blog as an outlet for writing as well as family record keeping. To how I finally made writing a priority when my kids were in second and fifth grade and I crafted a novel in between the morning rush, the afternoon shlepping and my sporadic massage clients, drinking too much coffee and relying on the encouragement of others like a parasite.

I imagine dedicating my first book to my wife for believing in me and for telling me she was planning our wealthy retirement on my success.  I envisage giving credit to my own personal cheerleaders and of autographs and book clubs and head shots. I conjure the advice I will give to aspiring writers about how the only way to write is to write, how to breath life into characters, how to pace a scene and all sorts of other wisdoms I don't yet have and so can't yet dispense.

Fortunately,  I also have enough self-depreciation to be paralyzed by my own feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt.  It is hard to tell people I am writing a book and not have it self incredibly self-indulgent.  Practically every day when I sit to write, I tell myself:  it doesn't have to be good.  You just have to do it. Sometimes I struggle to write any words because I know that probably 60% of everything I write will be cut later. I feel crippled to type the words that will likely be sacrificed  on the alter of editing.  I am too attached to my own words.

I am myopic in my view of the journey of writing. I have this notion that people like Elizabeth Gilbert, Jodi Picoult and R.K. Rowling just sit at a laptop and compose perfection with every key stroke. I sit at my laptop, volleying between fist pumps of success and a running mantra of who will ever want to read this?

And don't get me started on my worries about how herculean it is to get a manuscript published.

Cheryl Strayed wrote this in her stunning book, Tiny, Beautiful Things (another book I highly recommend): "I finally reached a point where the prospect of not writing a book was more awful than writing a book that sucked. And so at last, I got to serious work on the book."

She also talks about how having a book inside her is like have two hearts beating in her chest and goes on to say: "I'd lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest.  Which meant I had to write a book. My very possibly mediocre book.  My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book.....It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do."

Her memoir, Wild, was recently made into a movie staring Reese Witherspoon.

I am a patchwork of intense self-belief and debilitating self-doubt.  Regardless of the presence or absence of raw talent, writing a book takes dedication and work,  sweat-inducing, humility-provoking, soul-digging work.  It is work worth doing no matter the outcome, a journey worth taking no matter the destination because if you have a book inside you, you must extract it.

Photographers have to take endless pictures to get a handful of good ones.  Writers have to write countless words to write the ones that matter.  I am 28 pages into this book-ectomy.  Hopefully that translates into a solid 4 pages of good writing.

As a practical matter, if you come to my house and see a rejected manuscript in the trash it is likely a cry for help.  I may need you to take it out, brush the coffee grounds off it and tell me I have something there and to keep working.

1 comment:

Kimberley Moran said...

I know exactly where your head and heart reside right now. i was there just last year. If you read more about writers (and I'm sure you will) you'll see this feeling of obsessive writing mixed withs elf-deprication is a common theme. You just have to live with it, I'm told. But for me it is a path worth taking. Here's to writing! It may make us drink more but on some days it may be a good alcohol replacement!

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