Ah, yes, that Family Guy clip makes me laugh and want to cry at the same time…little Stewie may as well be prodding me over how it’s been over a year and a half since I started my manuscript. And that’s when I actually started writing it; the idea had come to me a couple years before that, in the form of random scribblings on the pages of my journal or Starbucks napkins and envelopes…and the more I read about other writers’ processes, the more universal that mode of transcription appears to be—I see us all just dwelling in these rooms with Post-Its and index cards and newspaper scraps thumb-tacked to the wall and strung together with yarn, the map room in the midst of a warzone where our batty, “Beautiful Minds” strategize…
That digression aside, I’m seriously having issues pulling it all together right now. I haven’t even been able to follow the advice I shared in “The Beginning of the End,” back in March…yeesh. And why, when the journey has already been so long and is so close to its end destination?
Because there is very good reason for that initial voyage to require some time. Unlike what many tend to perceive, writing is a lot of work, not merely something one just dashes off in a burst of inspiration as one’s Muse sings softly in one ear as Her sister strokes a harp into the other, with the brooding writer sequestered in a candlelit garret, feverishly scribbling with ink-stained fingers—films like Becoming Jane or Shakespeare in Love would have you believe even a masterpiece can be penned overnight. Not that I’m remotely considering myself in the ranks of Jane Austen or William Shakespeare simply by virtue of taking a stab at this writing thang, but I can’t keep psyching myself out with how much I’m not them either, or I’ll utterly paralyze myself.
You know what helps with that, though? Empathy. Lua Fowles, for instance, shares her experience grappling with “The Fear of the First Draft” in her Like a Bowl of Oranges blog. And if it isn’t the fear that can slow you down, it’s the procrastination—Eva, author of the Write in Berlin blog, shares a few surefire tips on how to do so in “The Art of Avoiding to Write.” Even when you do find your groove, there is a process to it, a method underlying all that madness that ensures the narrative is structured and worded effectively—I love author Wendy Robertson’s take on her own process in “The Joys of Cranking the Engine of a Novel” in her A Life Twice Tasted Blog (she’s one of the gracious and encouraging facilitators of the Room to Write workshop I attended in Spring).
And even when a writer does finish that first draft, the pilgrimage is far from over. Never mind the elusive quest of getting published, the revision alone is going to be another prolonging factor. Some revise as they go along, others leave the bulk of it for the end; regardless, it’s yet more process to undertake, and that requires some time, people. Again, empathy to the rescue!—see Lua once more in “Editing 1 (oh no) 1” and Agatha’s appropriate analogy in “Digging in the Dirt” from her Here Be Dragons blog. I personally am one of those who revises along the way, so my constant backtracking is another reason for delay.
Whatever excuses I can arguably throw out there to defend why it’s taking me so long to finish writing this book, the brutally honest truth about it is that the story has gone quiet in my head. I’ve sat, and I’ve written. But whereas before I was satisfied and moved forward, now I only go back and delete and rewrite and delete and think and re-envision and write and delete…never seeming to get it right. What I write these days feels artificially imposed on my characters, you see, because I don’t seem to see them or hear them anymore. No kidding, I almost feel abandoned…and melancholy, as I didn’t get the proper chance to say goodbye. So what sort of cerebral seance could I conduct to summon their spirits back to my consciousness? How can I get them back?
Maybe it’s because the story really is ready to end, and this is its way of telling me.
Or, egad! Maybe the story already ended within its alternative universe, and I failed to write it down in time!
Maybe it’s only because I’ve been tending to it lately in fits and starts and need to more fully immerse myself back into its world.
Maybe it’s because after stringing those varying colors of yarn all around the walls, I now sincerely have no idea where to take those loose ends, which to tie up neatly in bows and which to continue on out the window and into the sunset on their own happy trails unbenownst to any of us. Seriously, maybe I’ve over-thought myself into a rut and simply don’t know how to end it.
Maybe the Muses have stopped singing for me.
Or maybe, just maybe, I’m not ready for it to end…
“I’m a novelist; I’m never going to finish the book.” – James, Sliding Doors