Friday, May 7, 2010

The Ebb & Flow of Writing

Up at 4:00 AM to write and I’m already tapped out without having touched the keyboard. Last week, I was full of words. Today, gone. Last week at this very time, I was typing furiously and giving shape to my new novel. Words flowed out of me like a mountain spring. I even wrote a short story. Thousands of words danced on my computer screen and I felt great. Today, I am blank.

I'm blaming revision, which feels more like building a water system as opposed to letting the words just flow down the mountain. So, rather than fear my creativity is ebbing, I'll just look at revision as constructive flow that leads to a pause, which is where I am now.

After spending every free minute I had this week, revising and rewriting my short, I’m officially exhausted. I’ve read, reread, revised this story about a hundred times. At first, there were big chops, then chisels and, finally, polish. It feels ready for public consumption, that place where you can do nothing else with it except give it to objectivity. It’s that time where I’ve spent too much time staring at the story, reworking sentences, building tension, struggling with dialogue. Saturated with it, I can do no more without the help of someone else.

I got so microscopic about this piece that I missed obvious stuff like the fact that no one would wear a fur coat during baseball season. But, would it be a problem if the dumb husband bought the fur coat during baseball season? He actually stole it, so it makes more sense if he gives it to her during the warmer months because he’s an idiot and I want the reader to think he’s an idiot. Phew. I can get away with that. But the tense inconsistencies? How come I’m only seeing those the 101th time I’ve read the thing? Because that is what I’ve decided happens when you’re too close to a story. You need to give yourself some breathing room. Unfortunately, I woke up this morning to finalize this piece and just sat cross-eyed while trying to focus on it. It’s like when my kids come home from school and yell, “Look at this! Look at this!” while holding the paper an inch from my face. I can’t see a blessed thing because it’s just too close (and I’m just too far-sighted). Put the fork in me, I’m done. I’ve got to either send it in to the contest or sit on it for a few more days to get some perspective. Instinct tells me to sit.

I really don’t like entering short story contests. I feel defeated before I even send the damn thing in. There are so many talented writers out there that I imagine it’s a rare writer who gets acknowledged as a winner of a contest. The story has to be well-written and interesting. Not an easy feat. I read the stories that are being submitted now for Backspace Contest #48 and I marvel. People are so clever and talented conjuring up stories that feel so real, I could feel the slime of a frog or the despair of divorce. I get inspired to keep at it when I read other people’s writing. And I learn a lot.

On that note, I read an interview yesterday with Emily St. John Mandel, author of THE SINGER’S GUN, and was struck by one of her comments about writing. BPM Smith asked her to share about her prose style because “It's quite different... taut, even beautiful in ways.”

This exquisite writer responded, “I've never taken a writing class, so my prose style developed solely through voracious reading and through a lot of practice. I try to read as much fiction as I can, to see what everyone else is doing.”
For the full interview, go to:

What? You’ve never taken a writing class and you write like that?? How is that possible? Well, I think of author, Malcom Gladwell, who in his book OUTLIERS shares the phenomenon called “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” Scientific studies have shown that 10,000 hours are required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. Well, if that’s true, no one needs to take a class on anything. We just have to spend the better part of our lives accumulating the 10,000 hours we need to become an expert. Makes sense that a child who was a voracious reader grew up to become an exquisite writer.

Well, back to the drawing board. I imagine I’m at about 1,200 hours in my writing immersion, having gotten this late-in-life start at it. But, I will keep plugging along, trying to get those hours in, even if it means rising at 4:00 AM and staring at a blank screen, appreciating the pause that must happen for every writer.