Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Seasons of an Artist’s Life, or Been There, Done That

As he was ringing us up, the very good looking, very young and studly clerk asked us, "So, are you celebrating tonight? Going to a party? Having some green beer?" It was St. Patrick's Day and my husband Don and I were standing at the check-out counter at Trader Joe's.

"No," I said. "Been there, done that."

"Don't worry," he told us, "I'll take up where you left off."

I thought of this when I read Rick's entry on this blog yesterday. He noted that he no longer has the same energy he had in his youth, and though still creative and infinitely more experienced, one's "fire burns nowhere as hot as it once did."

I know what you mean, Rick. When I was a kid, I started writing stories as a distraction from family trauma. I created worlds and escaped into them. I remember with fond nostalgia the days I would write for hours on end, lost in my stories, feeling an actual love for my characters as though they were my real friends or family or lovers. (Sometimes I loved my characters more than certain friends or family or lovers.) I have a much more business-like relationship with my fiction these days. I don't have the passion I once had. Just more skill.

Well, to everything there is a season, so the Bible says. The body and the brain sputter and fade out eventually. Of course, I never really thought that talent or genius originates in the brain, anyway. Years ago it occurred to me like a flash of lightning that your brain is just like a radio transmitter that picks up inspiration from the Big Mysterious Place and allows you to transform that inspiration into action in the physical world. It's just that as your receptors fray you have a little more trouble picking up the signal.
In other news, I am so close to finishing this new book. Every day for the past two weeks, I've gotten out of bed and thought, "Today's the day!" Thus far it hasn't been.

I had a rather painful writing day today. I sat in front of my computer and did my duty with gritted teeth. I typed a lot of words, most of which I’ll either have to take out later or move to a different scene. But I did it, by damn, and I’m hoping I dug out a lot of slag that has a piece or two of gold in it that I can use later.

I never know why one day is better than another when it comes to writing. Each book seems to be a whole new order of creation for me, and demands its own unique method of coming into being. I’ve been known to outline before I begin when I think that would help me clarify the direction of the plot in my own mind. I have also simply started writing, usually at the beginning, but I’ve started in the middle and the end, as well. More than once I’ve begun a novel on the fly, and then gone back and created an outline because I’ve gotten myself into a muddle and can’t quite figure the way out.he middle of a novel, there may come a moment when you wonder if you're ever going to be able to get it done. You know where you want to end up, but you're not entirely sure how you're going to get there. Sometimes I feel frightened, and wonder if I still have it in me. Will I find my way out of this maze, and do it in such a way that I bring the reader along with me?

It’s not like this has never happened to me before, and I must remember that miraculously it always works out. As I write the first draft, my beginnings never do match the end, for somewhere in the middle of the story, I changed my mind about this character, or this action, or this story line. I try not to waste time by going back to the beginning and fixing it to fit my new vision. No, no, that way lies madness. I can get (and have gotten) caught up in an endless merry-go-round of fixes and never reach the end. I just have to keep going until the book is done. I love writing, but I hate the pressure of trying to get the manuscript done by a deadline. Sometimes I ask myself, do I have to do this? Really, would the world fall apart if I turned it in a couple of weeks late?

Would it?*
*I'll never know. I'm too neurotic not to do whatever it takes to get the thing done in time.

1 comment:

Eileen Goudge said...

Great post, Doris! As for deadline pressure, self-imposed is the worst. For me being self-employed means having a slave-driver for a boss. No, the world won't come to an end if I'm late. That's the problem: no one will notice or care, and then I'll be depressed, thinking I might as well hang it up.