I have been working on a book over the past nine months. Well, really three years, but more intently for the last nine months. My schedule being what it is, and my brain chemistry preventing me from sitting still for eight hours at a time, I rarely write for more than an hour or two. But I kept working. As I got into the process, the story became more and more complex. More characters appeared.
And the end seemed to get further and further away.
But I have learned this about writing a longer piece – you stop looking at the end. You just write a certain number of words a day, or for a certain amount of time, then you walk away from it until the next day. The process is Sisyphean – just keep pushing the rock. It’s there waiting for you. Getting impatient does no good. You can’t just get it over with– it’s too long a climb. All you can do is show up.
I’m reminded of a friend of mine who, as a mid-life-crisis kind of experience, decided to ride her bike across the country. She was hoping it would be some kind of transforming experience, and she would have a revelation about who she was and what she should do.
“Was it a catharsis?” I asked.
“Not really” she said. “It wasn’t a big thing. It was just a whole bunch of little things. It wasn’t one 3000 mile ride, it was 75 forty mile rides, one after another.”
Which is like life, I guess. Or at least writing this damn book. In the past month I have been writing pretty regularly, and am now up to about eighty thousand words (many which will have to die later on – I don’t edit much as I go along the first time). One thing about writing on a computer – you can always check exactly how many words you’ve written in the past five minutes. Which is good and bad. Actually, mostly bad.
One scene after another. Just plugging away. Not looking at the ending, but filled with the vague sense of dread that it would never end and I would just be hanging out with Tantalus and Cerberus for the rest of my time on this mortal coil.(Mixed metaphor there, I think…)
Annie Dillard said that writing a book is like sitting up with a sick friend and hoping he doesn’t die.
Then on Monday I had a weird thing happen. I went out in the morning to stare at the computer, then checked the story line I had written months before, including possible scenes
Wow. There wasn’t much more to write. I’d taken care of all the scenes leading up to the climax of the story, and it was time to spring the trap. Suddenly, I could see the end. I knew where it was going! How did that happen? I still have another thirty or forty pages, but I know what’s going to happen. And I’m going to get there in the next week or two.
And I’ll tell you what – it’s easier to write when you can see the end.
The secret – there is none. Like Jane Yolen says – “The secret to writing – butt in chair.”
Of course, then there’s the next dumb step. Trying to sell it. Another rock waiting for me.