Monday, May 25, 2015

When a Writer's Not Writing

When writers talk about the act of writing, they tend to speak metaphorically.

Writing a book is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.-- E.L. Doctorow

To write, you sit down at a typewriter and bleed. --Ernest Hemingway

Stephen King talks about diving into a dark pool or digging up fossils.

Maybe we speak metaphorically about writing because the literal description is so boring. Basically, writing a book involves parking your ass down and picking up a pen or typing on a keyboard until you finish writing it. Sometimes this take months.

Sometimes it takes years.

You are alone. Or you are surrounded by people in a coffee shop, but after awhile you forget those people. You type the letters right the hell off your keyboard.

(Goodbye A, S, and E) (the N and L are gone too)
Some days you forget to wash your hair or change your clothes. Your fingers get cramped. Your back aches. Your eyes burn. You drink a lot of cold coffee. You babble like an idiot to your family about plot holes and snippets of dialogue. 

Or you grunt at them. 

I'm kinda manic when I shut down for the day. I walk out of my office in a daze as if I have been holed up in a cave. There I go speaking metaphorically. 

It does feel like emerging from a cave when you finish writing a book. 

I stumble out into the sunlight, blinking my eyes. Huh. It's spring. Who knew? 

I don't know what to do with myself. 

Cleaning is usually number one on the agenda. When you spend nine or ten months writing a book, you tend to let household chores go. Now it's time to sweep up the dust tumbleweeds in the living room and tackle the science experiments brewing in the bathrooms. 

Do the laundry 

Plant seeds

I always think I should celebrate. Throw a party. Or at the very least, flop out in the hammock and read a book. Instead, I assign myself projects like Paint the Office or Create a Rock Garden. 

I'm not sure exactly why I do this. 

Yesterday I sat in my garden all day pulling up weeds and scattering mulch. There was something very zen-like about it. 

I was not thinking about the book I had just finished, the book that had pretty much consumed me for months. I wasn't thinking about how this possible mess of a Thing is now in the hands of my trusted first readers, how what they say about this Thing will determine how I spend the next few months. I wasn't thinking about publication or the fact that the last book I finished is still bouncing around with editors or more likely, sitting in editorial inboxes, untouched and unread. I wasn't thinking about why I Do This when there is no guarantee that anything I write will show up on a library or bookstore shelf ever again. I wasn't think about next books or speaking engagements or book signings or book festivals or teaching writing workshops. 

Instead I was squatting in dirt chasing the shade around my garden. I had mud under my fingernails and bugs crawling in my hair. 

My mind was blissfully empty and I didn't even realize what I'd accomplished until I stood up and stumbled out of the garden and looked. 

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