I hate writing, I love having written. —Dorothy Parker
Every story, every book begins brilliantly. Words flow onto the page without effort and man, do they sing. This is the part of writing I love. The writing. The first echoes of what is taking up space in my head and begging to get on the page. This is the honeymoon phase.
The honeymoon phase is that time in your writing before it sucks, when you are in love with writing, in love with what you are working on, in love with your idea. It is blissful. It is short-lived. With short stories it seems to last as long as it takes me to get a first draft written. With my novel-in-progress it ended about halfway through the first draft. Sit with things too long and they lose their flavor. Familiarity and all that.
After the honeymoon, well, there is the assurance that you are a fraud and nobody, even your mother, will want to read the dreck that ended up on the page—and you have no idea how it did. This is most certainly not what you wrote. You have no idea where the hell that went, but it was so good. Somewhere in the night the writing faeries must have broken in to your computer and bolloxed everything up.
This is when it goes on the shelf. The drawer. That folder on your desktop full of wonderful beginnings gone wrong.
Then, when the proper time has passed (a few weeks for me), you open it again and find that the faeries have come back and it it’s not half bad if you do say so yourself. It’s not the masterpiece you wrote, but it’s a good start.
And then you get to work. The editing. The beta readers. The crushing doubt. In the end you won’t have a clue what you have, but there it is.
D is for didn’t. We didn’t intend to pick up and move just yet.
D is for Dallas. This is where we are now.
D is for doubt. I’ve completed a story that I’ve been working on and I’m ready to submit it. In theory. In fact, I am thinking that it might not be good enough. that it will never be good enough. But I have committed myself to submitting enough to get rejected at least 50 times. That might only take 50 submissions at this point, but once I get there I’ll tack on more to my goal. This could go on for a while.
What if I reach 100 rejections with not one acceptance? I can’t think about that right now. It’s too devastating. Devastating to the point that it would make me consider stopping all together.
There are two more stories on deck and a third that I might consider submitting. If I submit each of the four stories to three different journals, that would be 12 rejections. Less than half of my goal. Can my ego take that?
I’m 60 pages into the novel I’ve finally decided to write. Over 21,000 words. And I am utterly and completely lost.
Writing a short story is like taking a direct path while writing a novel feels as if I’m wandering all over the place. I’m not even fully writing it in order. I’ve written scenes in the middle and toward the end. There is a beginning. I did start there. Except it was right at the end. There’s a cliffhanger and even I don’t know how it ends yet. But it’s a story about becoming, and my word for the year is “stretch,” so I’m stretching to become a novelist.
I wrote one once, one kid and two dogs ago. It is not good (nor should it be). I tried to rewrite it, but my heart wasn’t in it. The book was written prove to myself that I could do it. A Month of Sundays was written so that I could have a published work. Accomplishment for accomplishment’s sake. But this? Finishing this, and I mean finishing it in a way that it might actually be ready to be a book, means that I am fully committing to this writing thing. That I am going to put myself out there for rejection, rejection of something that feels at the moment like it’s actually being extracted from me. That’s some scary shit.
Scary is good. I’m not in mortal danger, simply in danger of taking death blows to my ego, which only feels like you’re going to die. At least that’s what I’m counting on. But this is the stuff of life, isn’t it? Doing what scares you? I’m sure someone told me that once, although I suspect that whoever decided it was a thing was simply trying to reassure themselves. Fear was designed to keep us safe. But not from a politely worded rejection letter from Doubleday.
I’m preparing for failure. It’s not that intend to fail, but if I allow that it could actually happen, I hope to let go enough to make something really good. Right now it feels like it sucks (no, I haven’t read any of it yet) and that there is no there, there and there might never be (how many theres can you write in a row and still have a coherent sentence?).
It’s hard to imagine any more uncomfortable position to be in than at a table where several other people are openly discussing your work while you have to sit, mute, and just listen. But there is also no better place to learn a bit about yourself and your work.
I’m doing a community writing workshop at a local university. There’s a small group of individuals of varying ages, professions, and experiences. I got my first critique the other night.
Now I’ve done this before, so the experience wasn’t new, but it is always interesting to hear people talk about something you’ve written. Everyone has different perspective, a different opinion, and sometimes you get a mass of contradiction to wade through to find things that ring true to you and what you are trying to put forward.
And then there is the urge to say your piece. To explain. To argue. But you can’t. And that’s a good thing. It’s good because then you can’t spend time thinking about what you want to say, how this person or that is all wrong or exactly right. All you can do is listen and absorb.
You won’t take every morsel of advice, but some will land in the pit of your stomach and take hold. They will change your piece or how you think about it, what the possibilities are. It’s an exercise I highly recommend if you can come at it from the right place. If you can manage not to take anything personally and divorce yourself from what you’ve written and look at it like a reader, not a parent. At the very least it will thicken your skin.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some revisions to get to.
Home. Is it where I live? Is it New York City? A hotel room somewhere out there? I’m not sure. I guess home is where you can be yourself, where appearances don’t matter, where you can exhale. If that is the case, home is my family.
But if home is a feeling, a sense of peace, of rightness and balance, I’d have to say New York. I always feel right when I am there.
If home is where you are your best self, the you you always want to be, inspired and relaxed and ready for anything, then home is that hotel room.
And if home is that cozy corner of the world where all your stuff is, where you feel clean and comfortable and safe, then right here is home.
Home, I guess, is whatever you make it. Wherever you are. Maybe home isn’t a place but a feeling. Being comfortable in your own skin is always being home no matter where you are.