I used to think that when people wrote a book, they just sat down to write and it came to them, it flowed, and they barely had to tweak it.
That tells you the kind of la la land I live in. Like, when in life does THAT ever happen?You have an idea, you follow a straight line and everything is just peachy. I’m sure someone has had that happen but only after all the hard work behind the scenes, by themselves, alone in their room or in collaboration with a cast of hundreds over years.
Luckily, I’m not looking for one brilliant idea to change the world. I’m not aiming to cure cancer. I’m just working on my little manuscript, although I find that word – manuscript – incredibly pretentious. It makes it sound like I’m doing research on the bible, or I’m Salman Rushdie or Margaret Atwood instead of just yet another mid-life woman trying to write some funny stories aabout a Gulf Island detour, and about all the wonderful eccentric and human characters she encountered while there. Not a single drug trial involved. Or, at least not one that I had anything to do with.
What really happens in the writing process? I get this urgency, an intuition, a knowing that of all the people I met or of all the experiences I’ve had, (so far), and thoughts, one rises to prominence. I zero in on that one as the “right” one to focus on right now. I double-check my level of enthusiasm. I have to be “into” it.
Then, I get to work. I write and revise and write and revise. I open the fridge. Nothing in there. Go back to my computer. I write and write and re-write sentences. I hand it in to my mentoring group, or not. Sometimes just one thing someone says makes me think about it in another way, makes me ask questions.
The most surprising aspect is this. Even though I was starting off to write one thing, the next thing I know, just like therapy was, I’m off on a tangent about something I thought I put to bed years ago. I write 20 pages on that. I look at it feeling good. I’m making progress. Then I come back to it and decide, there is no way I can write THAT. What if THAT actually got published? Why do I even want to write THAT? Why would I want to give that story any more energy on paper than I already gave it through years of my life? But, it’s such a great story, I rationalize. I can already see the movie. Okay, I must fictionalize it. Stop it. Just put it aside.
At this point, I have two books I need to write, one fiction, one non-fiction and I’ve yet to complete either. It’s like rabbits, multiplying, for no good reason except my reasons aren’t giving me as much pleasure as we can only assume rabbits get. Are you kidding me? Focus. Just focus on the easier one; the little Gulf Island detour. You can handle that one. Don’t get too ridiculously ambitious. This could take years. And, you’re not that young. Time is of the essence here. The little Idiot Savant wizard in the sky has turned over the hourglass. FOCUS.
I’m beginning to realize that the process has a lot in common with therapy. EMDR took me on a fantastical journey that led me back to myself but not before it delivered all sorts of imagery as metaphor, insights into what that metaphor actually meant and realizations that sometimes seemed obvious, sometimes made no sense. Realizations that led to healing. Writing, I’m discovering, can also be healing and it can be anxiety-provoking.
You can actually relive your past, viscerally, by dumping it, in words, on a page. Something transforms your perceptions of an experience between the thought bubble and the black and white Times Roman Print on the page, no denying its existence right in front of you; a scene for you to review, objectively.
As Betsy Warland, former Director of The Writer’s Studio said, Here’s one of the five principles of writing a manuscript. Cover your ears if you’re in the middle of one. Or even worse, if you think you’re done. Ha. Ha.
“It will always to take much longer to write it and finish it than you think it will.”
Question: What’s surprised you about writing something and the process that unfolds? Name one thing.