Writers love to read about writing. It makes us feel not quite so alone. The thing is, reading about writing doesn’t get the book written. Writing the book gets the book written. And writing the book is damn hard, because the more one writes, the more exacting one becomes, and the more exacting one becomes, the less tolerant one is of just about anything one has hitherto written.
I am reading Annie Dillard‘s, The Writing Life, and in it she notes that often even the supporting beams of one’s story have to come down. That not only do we have to cut out so much of our beautiful writing, but there are times when even the very gem that begat the story has to be crushed or excised. How is that fair? Well, perhaps it isn’t fair, but it appears to be the truth. In my case, at least.
Even I am growing weary of answering the question, “So how’s the novel coming along?” with “I’m rewriting it. Again.” But there you have it. It will take as long as it takes.
It’s better now. Different. A few supporting beams have come down, and I’m picking through the debris for a few phrases that might still do.
One of the issues Ms. Dillard addresses is that of becoming so familiar with the passages in one’s story (particularly the early ones which have been read and reread so many times) that they become truth. Or at least seem to be integral, unassailable, and essential. Especially if they are “beautifully written.” And we miss the fact that many of them aren’t necessary or helpful.
I’m not mad anymore. It just is what it is. Annie also holds that the average novelist takes 4 to 7 years to complete a book, a fact I have heard more than once. Doesn’t it take seven years to become a doctor?
I have always raced through life, in a hurry to get to the next best thing, slowing down only when something captures me. Osho did just that thirty years ago and kept me attentive for years, learning the arts of healing touch, meditation and celebration. Lovemaking slows me right down, too, but one can’t make love all the time just to practice the art of presence.
So at last, I have stopped my incessant rush to get this novel thing done. It didn’t help, really, that Penguin, Harper Collins and two agents asked to read the manuscript. That sounds terrible, I know, but it’s true. I got all breathless and panicked and wrote like crap as I rushed to fix everything all at once. If you’ve read more than one of my posts you know that I have cried many times for this very reason.
At the beginning of The Writing Life is the Goethe quote: Do not hurry; do not rest. This has become my mantra.
Maybe one day my writing will sustain me, and perhaps not. What matters is that I respect the craft and the process, and most importantly, that I love what I do. By slowing down and paying attention, these things are all possible.