The Beginning of the End

I have been writing my book since some time in November, when I was trapped in a hellish job where I slang corn dogs and sliced up chubs of meat for assholes who worked for Microsoft and Amazon. I know, what the fuck took me so long?! Honestly, I’m not really sure–though this is also the first book I’ve written where it wasn’t a rip-off of something else I have read, so it’s to be expected I suppose. But now, in the middle of summer I find myself so close to the end of my book that I can taste it. I say about two weeks more of writing 2,000 words a day should do it. With that, I mean I will be done with all the prinicipal word-writing. All the words to my book will be written two weeks from now. Two weeks. It’s so crazy to hear and to think that sometimes I feel like I don’t even want to finish my book. I don’t know if this is normal because I’ve never been at this point in the process where I’m so close to finishing something that’s such a part of me, but one part of me thinks that if I can just keep writing this thing forever, I’ll never have to tear it down.

I think one of the reasons for this fear of finishing is that the book is such a part of me that I balk at seeing what will happen when I show it to others. Not necessarily my friends who are amazing critics and who help me to refine my work as far as possible, but the people who I will send my work to for the final word on whether or not it will find representation or publication or not. I hate the idea that I am afraid of finishing my book because of what will happen to it when it is done but if I’m honest with myself, that’s pretty much it. Sending my book out into the cold cruel world is a frightening thing–especially to know that once I send it out, I’ll have to get to work on another project, whatever it may be. Maybe I’ll feel better about it after I’m finished. These may be the fears of someone who is on the brink of something awesome or wonderful and just doesn’t know it yet. This also tends to happen with people who are about to “level-up” in their writing, slumping into a kind of funk or plateau in their thinking or in their work right before a giant breakthrough pushes them forward.

Another reason I think finishing the book is becoming difficult is because somewhere in the back of my writer-brain, as I read the phrases and experience them coming forth, I know that on a sentence-by-sentence level as well as a conception-based level, I am far better a writer than I was when I began my project. On the face, this seems completely heartening and no cause for anything but celebration. But thinking back, that means 8 months of improvement will have to be reconciled once the book is done. Not only does this seem like hard work, it also seems like I should have my whole book immediately at the skill-level I am at right now, rather than having to be fixed in post. Petty and useless whining on my part, of course, seeing as how the finished product will hopefully be up to snuff. It’s just that fear one faces when looking at work done a while back and suddenly they are horrified to find that they could ever be that bad of a writer. It’s at then that the writer must stay in his seat, strap on his seatbelt, and roll up his sleeves because he has a lot of work ahead of him, just different from the kind that he has done up to this point. However, this kind of writing seems to be something different that I might enjoy. What’s more, I would probably be able to do this writing at one point and then switch over and work on something new, since one is being written with the editor brain and the other with the artist brain. Hopefully this will dispel some of the unpleasantness of seeing my older work that isn’t as good as I’d like it to be.

Something for all you writers to remember and keep in your ears: if you’re reading something of yours that you wrote a while ago and it seems terrible, this is a GOOD THING. It means that your faculties haven’t failed you and that you still have a good sense of quality work, and what’s more, you have probably improved in your writing and recognition of what is good, which means that the next time you write something, it will be better than what you have in your hand. And what’s even more, you’ll probably be able to edit the piece you’re reading right now to a point where it is better. Or, you’ll be able to re-write the story, this time in a way that’s even more aligned with what you envisioned for it in the first place.

By now, I’ve rambled sufficiently about my worries, fears, and then my silver-lining I’ve found in my worries and fears about finishing my book. Hopefully this was entertaining or instructive or both. Neither would be unfortunate, but at times I’m not sure if I’m writing these posts more for myself or for others. Either way, I learn as I write and I hope something of consequence is gleaned after I’m done.



Fear and Loathing at the Writing Desk

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.”