I’ve had a couple of conversations as of late that seem, on the surface, easier than their content:
How do you write. How do you finish work. How do you make something painfully real.
It’s a really simple answer with a lot of weight behind it: you just do. You just make the time. You just carve out a piece of yourself. You just need to bleed. You just need to give things up. Why? Because the end result is worth it. Because you need it to function normally and not turn into a total monster.
It’s an early Saturday evening after spending the day with a few people I’ve missed so much that I could hit a wall and it wouldn’t compare. I’ve had a few drinks. The world seems to be set against me. This is the way it goes. There have been several beers and several really excellent tacos, and I’m home alone on the first Saturday night in what seems like forever. Okay. This is what I’m telling myself: okay. I invited this. This is relevant. This is something I need to get accustomed to. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, but the longer you dither around, pacing in front of your computer eyeing the manuscript draft, the more frustrated you become. It’s like going without sex for a couple of months. You get very tightly wound when you don’t do it.
A few weeks ago I brought someone back from the dead.
It was the first step towards making something meaningful — the scene I’ve badly wanted to write for the last year and I was saving — and while I definitely don’t blame beginning writing again with the dissolution of a relationship or the sudden bizarre craving for like-minded company, I really wish there was someone out there who could understand the dissonance between wanting to make something and wanting to literally smash everything in my way with my fists. Everything else in life filters down to a low hum, and while I feel more myself in this world, I wonder if I’d be as productive working at a cafe or something where I’d feel less isolated doing it. Or maybe more exposed.
I don’t know if its true of all writers, but I definitely feel too much. The process for me requires the patience to take the things that hurt and siphon them out to something pure that I can work with while subsequently re-feeling everything and examining it under microscope. Sadism. That’s legitimately what it is. Some twisted type of therapy.
Every professional author I’ve met whose gone through the process offers a contradiction: you need to tap into that raw thing that makes the words oscillate, but you need a thick skin to actually put that stuff out there for someone else to enjoy. Then its not yours anymore anyway, and no one really knows how much of it is actual fiction when you’re frankensteining together the pieces of an alternate reality, or how much you’ve siphoned out parts of your own experience to make every lumbering, blood-sucking, world-rending creature real because you’ve encountered people who were worse monsters than those that are fictionalized.
A few months back I participated in a writing workshop with the QWF, submitting a short story about a boy who returns home to Louisiana several years after the death of his sweetheart. It wasn’t well-received, but it was a dense piece of writing that played heavily on setting; the swamp, in particular. It wasn’t fun to write, and I suspected what needed changes upon submission, but there were parts of it that were great and parts that needed to be ripped into. It was a piece that was maybe a month old in a short format (which I hate because it’s restrictive and I can’t develop the characters fully or evolve them in such a way that doesn’t feel rushed. Short formats are my kryptonite.) The critique was so bad in fact, that I stopped going to the seminar. Totally discouraged. Obliterated any desire to write for the following month. I wrote the QWF asking for a partial refund, and they wouldn’t even give me that. I swore off the QWF (but didn’t swear at the QWF) and contemplated never writing again because if I couldn’t cobble together five thousand words about death and voodoo and rebirth then how the hell could I hold a trilogy together that totalled at four hundred and fifty thousand words and who the hell would buy that.
Skip ahead to the present day: As I’ve already glossed over, I’ve had a pretty crap week. Loads of upheaval in my personal life. We’ve moved offices so my commute has effectively doubled and design now lives in the attic of a giant castle in the old port. The roof is leaking, the polished concrete floors are bubbling from the water damage, it’s drafty, and I can smell the cigarette smoke from the guys working on the roof when I walk into stairwell. Since the building’s historical, there’s little to be done about the shades on the exterior windows, so my desk sits in a little dark corner that makes me deeply sad because I thrive on daylight. I don’t drink coffee during the day, but I need the sun otherwise I’m sleeping by noon. One of my colleagues brought in a shaman to exorcise the place but I don’t think it’s worked.
I’ve begun the transition to a more senior position, and I’m still wibbling over whether or not it’s going to be a good fit.
Finally, the cherry: my heart’s done broke. That was last Friday. Like ripping off a bandage when the wound’s still fresh — sometimes you just know it’s time to go even though you haven’t made the emotional disconnect, so you do the thing. I did the thing. Disappointed. Big case of the heavies.
Irony or kismet: When I was in Prague in September a fortune teller at a medieval tavern I was drinking at read my palm. She told me very bluntly that I had roughly nine months until everything changed. Career. Love. Direction. I’m watching that wheel of fortune spin into place as April shifts to May and the nine month time limit on her prediction sounds a warning siren as June approaches, and I’m not sure about anything other than the fact that I’ve got my words and I’ve got my health. (Knock on wood.)
The first few days of this week were bleaker than most, but on Wednesday I got an email from one of the writers who participated in the QWF seminar. It’s been a while since the seminar ended, and I admitted my frustration and disappointment, and very politely she told me that the format wasn’t as she’d expected either, but she’d be happy to read anything else I might’ve written. Don’t give up. I was the strongest writer in the group.
Insert a fit of crying while locked into the office bathroom.
How do you find the time to write. How do you make that commitment. What’s the secret.
The secret is you’re probably kicking yourself in the teeth, so stop. That commitment means you come back day after day, even if you never let anyone read a word you’ve written, but you show up and you do the work. You make the time. You make it happen. Haters gonna hate, but sometimes the haters are dead wrong.
The words will be there for you because they never go away. They might disappoint you on occasion, they might not do what you want, they might not be able to cuddle, but they’re yours and they’ll be there after a long day or a hard week or when it feels like everyone else has abandoned you.
Just don’t give up on them.