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09/03/2006 Archived Entry: "That neurotic beast, the writer (aka starting a new book project)"

IN MY MORE CYNICAL MOMENTS, I THINK ALL WRITERS ARE CRYBABIES, whining about how they have the hardest, most soul-wrenching job in the world. Oh weep weep, moan moan, poor artistic, doomed me. (Yeah, try digging ditches for a living, ya lily-fingered whimp and see how hard writing really is.)

Then I start a project and remember how much we have to cry about.

This week I began what could be the most important project of my life. "A book?" somebody asked me.

"Yep, a book."

It joins several other projects that are at the "I can't talk about them because it might put a curse on them" stage. But if all goes well, this one could Make A Difference.

If all doesn't go well, it'll be down the memory hole, along with thousands of other idealistic books throughout history. Or worse, it'll be great ... and the world won't notice.

I say I began, but in fact I have a co-author on this one once again. I like working in partnership. It brings out the best. Partner (no names nameable at present, sorry) has already committed to making a substantial contribution and will truly earn his keep in the second half of the book. But for the moment, it's my job to put the first words to paper.

On Wednesday, after days of apprehension, I finally got up my courage and, in a fit of what I imagined to be brilliant inspiration, wrote a first chapter at lightning speed.

I thought it was brilliant until Friday morning when I read it again. Crap. Sheer crap. Total crap. Unpublishable, unconvincing stinking-to-high-heaven crap. I threw it all out.

Friday all day I beat my brains trying to make a new start. The world and the aforesaid brains conspired against it. All day, the dogs demanded my attention. The computer ran slowly. The weather was too nice to stay indoors. I'd move the laptop outside to work and the weather would be too chilly to work outdoors. I had to go dig potatoes. RIGHT NOW. And I agonized. I couldn't sit still. Couldn't think clearly. Could see a thousand turns in the creative maze, but no discernable pattern for getting through the giant puzzle.

Yesterday morning started much the same way. I thought, "Bring on the ditch digging. Let me flip burgers at Mickey D's. Let me drive delivery for Dominoes. Anything, anything, anything but this." (And of course I was aware this was a holiday weekend and the whole damn rest of the world was out having fun. But writers? We just write 24 hours a day. We write while we do dishes. Write while we walking in the woods. Write while we read books. Write while cleaning the toilet. We especially do that when we can't write with our butts placed reasonably in the chair in front of the computer. The result is that, when we're in the worst agonies of writing, we're also working triple-overtime without even the privilege of a coffee-break. See? We have a LOT to whine about.)

But I also know these moods. I know that this is what writers go through when hatching a project. This is a form of giving birth. Even as I tell myself, "You lazy, worthless, brain-dead little twit, you don't have it in you!" I know from experience that "it" -- whatever it may be -- is coming. I face total confusion with no concept of how I'll get out of it. But experience says that order, no matter how impossible it seems, will emerge, perhaps suddenly, from the chaos.

Sure enough, Saturday afternoon, while peeling carrots and chopping potatoes (from my own garden!) for a stew, a phrase came. And from the phrase came three pages of material that -- I realized only after the fact -- had to come first before the material planned for the first chapter made any sense. I couldn't write prior to that because my unconscious knew what my conscious mind didn't -- that a foundation had to be built first.

Now I can work.

Except, of course, for the possibility that tomorrow I'll read these three pages and discover that they, too, are unconscionable crap. It happens.

Or I'll think they're brilliant but Partner will point out fatal flaws or raise deal-killing disagreements with them. That happens, too. In that case he'll most likely be doing me a favor. But it still won't feel good. And Partner, I already know, can be as blunt as a baseball bat between the eyes. I actually like that. It makes both the work and the working relationship more fruitful. But definitely having a co-author -- one I've never written with before and one I know to be highly intelligent and demanding -- complicates the usual writer agonies.

Every time I start a new project I understand all over again why Hemingway and Fitzgerald drank and why all those famous intellectual women authors ended up with their heads in gas ovens or their whole selves plodding dramatically into rivers with rocks in their pockets.

I'm not putting myself in their league, mind you. Not creatively. But I can match them for writerly angst, dithering, frustration, self-loathing, and absolutely cosmic levels of self-pity. I swear, if it weren't for partnerships and deadlines, I'd never get a useful word down on paper. I can't imagine the courage and fortitude of a writer who comes home from a full-time job and spends three hours in the middle of every night for 10 years working on a novel he doesn't know if any one will ever buy.

Such people must be stronger than Schwarzenegger in his prime.

But then there is that moment when you're finally past all the dithering and -- for a little, tiny while, at least -- you know you're doing what needs doing. You know you've caught the Flow and are floating in the stardust with the angels.

And those moments, I tell ya ... well, if the DEA knew what those moments felt like, they'd be kicking down every writer's door trying to stop all the bliss.

Posted by Claire @ 02:50 PM CST

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