Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Shaken Snow Globe

There are days when it hits the fan, when life leaves you feeling like your head is a shaken snow globe, and you want nothing more than a quiet corner and a blank computer screen.

These are the days when you know you’re a writer –– when at the end of a long day you don’t want a drink, you don’t want to exercise, or even to curl up with a good novel, but, rather, to fill a blank screen.

I had one of these days recently: a long meeting that ended at 8 p.m., followed by a debrief. I came home and watched the first episode of House of Cards with my wife Lisa. When she went to bed, I stayed up to write. Needed to do so. Just 45 minutes. Just needed to clear my head by filling it with the novel I’m working on. Then off to bed, and I slept like the dead.

All of this makes me think about what writing means to me. Billy Collins, in his poem “Driving Myself to a Poetry Reading,” writes, “There is a part of me that wants / to let go of the wheel, climb over the seat / and fall asleep curled in the back.” This makes me think of the complex relationship writers have with writing. The thought, for instance, of everything this new book (and its author) will endure on its way to publication –– feedback, revisions, submission, rejection, contract negotiations –– is like staring at Mt. Everest before attempting the climb. It makes no sense to do so. Later in the poem, Collins writes, “Another part of me wants to be up on the hood, / a chrome ornament in the shape of a bird / leaning aerodynamically into the wind.” There is a push-pull relationship with this craft that most writers experience. The personal insecurities (will people like this?) that we all have and the business frustrations (promotion, reviews, advances) are often at odds with the love we all have for the craft, the I-need-to-do-this aspect of writing. When the latter wins, you know you’re in this for the right reasons.

The physical, mental, and spiritual act of writing keeps me going. I don’t write full time. So it’s not and never has been a job. It’s what I do –– most days at 4 a.m. when I push the plot forward –– but also late at night on the heels of month-long days when I need to clear my head by filling it.

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