Sometimes even I, after writing 2500 words in a night, come back to the words I wrote and wonder whether or not they are worth anything. At night, when in the throes of a writing streak, if I’m not careful, if I don’t separate one part of myself from the other, they begin to speak to one another, and the result is not pretty. It’s like allowing two of your ex-girlfriends to somehow meet with you in the room. Suddenly all your idiosyncrasies and tics and annoying habits and picadillos all come out and you find yourself in a severe state of self-loathing coupled with a bemused wonder at how you ever allowed those two parts of you to ever converge. This same thing happens when my pre-frontal cortex (or, as I like to call him, the fucking nag) somehow is allowed to interact with my right cerebral cortex–suddenly I suck at everything, this sentence is too long, that phrase is almost stock it’s so cliched. Why use that word? It’s totally redundant if you use a different word right in front of it, makes it way more concise. Why the hell would your character say that and on and on.
Doing the writing has always been for me a precarious balancing act and I’m sure it has for most people. However, I guess I find that the longer I do this thing, the easier it’s become for me to run along the gangplank which I happen to be on and not fall off into the abyss of self-doubt and hyper-editing (or worse, manuscript-burning). But, all the same, I can’t help wishing that I had a mentor. Not like the university teachers who helped us as much as they could (and some helped more than others). I keep going back to the things I read about DFW and Don DeLillo and I keep trying to find anything that they had written to each other. Wallace was in a real writerly existential crisis and he called out for help from one author who was already extremely well-established and who Wallace admired above many others. And that message in the bottle came back with more support than Wallace could have ever hoped for. I’m sure this encouragement and communication with someone who had been where Wallace had been and beyond helped Wallace summon the strength to finish Infinite Jest. I wish I had that. The feeling is even more acute today, where the Tin House Workshop is in its first full day (since it’s past midnight) which means that this year I am missing the thing that gave me such a kick in the ass, even kicking me right up out of a month-long depression that I had settled into since the very day I graduated. I feel lucky that my core group of support seems to be coming back together, if not slowly. I hope that by this time next year I will have a finely edited novel to shop around and to have work shopped. Some days it feels a long way off and other days it feels right around the corner. I just passed the climax of my novel and now it’s all over but the crying.
But after the crying comes the cutting–months and months of tearing down my work. And I’m sure everyone knows by now that that’s my least favorite part of the beast. Having said all that, I’m sure I would be freaking out far more if I didn’t know that I had at least three great readers who will give the best commentary possible once my book is finished. And they’ve done a great job not asking too much in the way of details from me since I’ve gotten on this kick of not giving away the fire too quickly and letting it stew. I think above all the thing that I fear is that the book will be a failure–something completely devoid of empathy and sincerity and that I will have poured all this into something that can not and never did hold water at all. I think the mentor thing would be of most use here, where you can only ask advice of someone who has already been in the throes of what you’re experiencing, has transcended it, and will be able to confidently tell you it’s going to be okay and that it will pass. As I say this, I see a link between myself and a drug addict in need of a sponsor–someone who’s been through it, who knows what it’s like, and to tell you it will pass and it gets better. “Hello, my name is Ry and I am a writer.” This seems like it could become quite a one-sided relationship, this sponsor or mentor, something along the lines of the Wallace story, “The Depressed Person” where someone calls a friend just to pour out all her insecurities and apologies and not good enoughs, which only serve to make her more alienated from her friends than if she just kept her shit to herself. Hopefully if I ever do get the balls to send that message out in the bottle, there will be someone on the other shore kind enough to talk me down, slap me in the face, and hand me a glass of whiskey and, having done all that, tell me to get back to work. And maybe to tell me that he (or she) believes in me. Or maybe more importantly, to tell me to believe in myself.
As I think about this idea of belief in oneself, I begin to realize that our insecurities are some of our greatest strengths. What do we talk about in our writing? I don’t talk about how fucking smart I am, or how much I’ve read and I’m sure you don’t either. We talk about how we hate the shapes of our noses, how we don’t want to fail–we express that in our writing–or at least I hope we do. Because that’s honest. That’s real. Speaking about our strengths, in an odd way, serves to alienate us from our readers, but when discussing or addressing our weaknesses, everyone is on board with it. I have to remember that and I hope you do, too. If something seems to be getting too close to you, don’t hold it at arm’s length–bring it closer, even close enough that you transcend the line of indecency. You can always go back to it later and make it less so. But I think we never know how far it is necessary to go until we go farther than we feel comfortable, then turn to look back.
For my closest writer friends, I hope this has been entertaining and maybe a little bit of an ah-ha! trigger. If not, hopefully it at least didn’t bore you to tears. For all the other folks who sometimes drop by my blog, I hope you enjoyed it too.
“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”