Will Work for Love


You know how, after exercising, endorphins flood your body so that you feel so energetic, so alive and rejuvenated despite what may have been a kick-in-the-ass workout? How wonderful it feels to get your muscles moving, your blood pumping, your limbs stretching? How much clearer your mind is after such invigorating movement?

Well, why the hell can’t writing feel the same way after you’ve spent what seems like a punishing amount of time with that ass in the chair, wrenching all kinds of demons to submission so that you can craft one…coherent…page?

Wrote three pages of the novel today. I decided after reading a bit of Keyes’ book the other night that it would be foolish of me to wait until I’ve completed the research to really dive back into the fray again. He titles a section “Compose First, Worry Later,” and recounts how Calvin Trillin, when writing an article, would write a “predraft — what he called a ‘vomit-out’ — of anything that came to mind.” Frank O’Connor would write in the same manner when beginning his short stories, throwing out whatever was floating around in the transom of his mind until some sort of outline eventually emerged.

I love these images, these mini-portraits of The Writer At Work. I especially loved Trillin’s term for his stream-of-consciousness method, because half the time that’s exactly how I feel when I’m hunched over my manuscript, desperately willing the right words to come out: I want to vomit. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who thinks her first draft is pure bullshit immortalized on paper, and I love that Keyes recognizes that fiction writers in particular suffer from the paralysis induced by the “page’s icy whiteness.” (Isn’t that a brilliant metaphor??)

So I’m back in the novel, and I’ll continue to do so while researching at the same time. I still want to complete my New Year’s resolution of finishing the 1st draft by December 31st, but I think if I push it I can even make it to the end of the summer. I’ll be starting a new full-time job at the local library on Thursday, so that will likely wreak havoc on my writing schedule, but I’m nothing if not the eternal optimist and will create a new schedule that will accommodate both the work for pay and the work for love.

Not to be immodest, but the pages I wrote today are actually pretty good, much to my surprise. I mean, I had a few appointments this morning as well as an article to write for the local paper, so I didn’t get started on it until well after lunch. Normally, my best writing time — when my mind is awake and just bristling with anxiety and anticipation at the thought of returning to my characters (whom I miss when I’m not at my desk…isn’t that weird?) — is early in the morning, after breakfast, preferably with a mug of hot tea. So I turned to my laptop today with not a little apprehension, but knowing that I should start now, not tomorrow or the day after or this weekend. Now, before the inspiration gets sucked back into the winter air.

And whaddya know, I turned out some pretty decent pages after all.

Saw Pollock on Sunday afternoon with B. Ed Harris is sexy as hell, and his portrayal of Jackson Pollock was searing. Of course, I was especially intrigued by the relationship between Pollock and his headstrong wife, the artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden). I’ve always found the relationship between an artist and his muse fascinating, even more so if the muse is an artist in her own right. The film didn’t avoid the issue of Krasner’s sublimation of her talent to support her husband, likely because it seemed to be Krasner’s conscious choice. She obviously had a surfeit of confidence in her own artistic ability, but for her own reasons she chose instead to nurture Pollock’s.

It’s a balance B. and I are trying to manage in our marriage, and so far it seems to work. I can imagine myself completely consumed by my writing, but I know that doing so dooms the relationship. Keyes quotes William Faulkner‘s position on the family vs. art conundrum: “A writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness — all to get his book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate: the Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies.”

Willa Cather was even more blunt about the issue: “My art is more important than my friend.”

I’m not quite that dedicated to my writing, although I know I’m capable of it. It’s a scary thought, and maybe that’s at the heart of the demons that plague so many writers and artists. Writing can be such a lonely yet exhilarating practice, and to be honest, more often than not I find the sweetest comfort in it, more than a million friends could ever give. But I guess that’s a suspicious act in our society, one that smacks of anti-social (and therefore anti-democratic, I guess) tendencies. Writers are meant to be seen in the public square, reading from their works, signing autographs, basking in the glow of their glamorous lives, instead of actually ensconced in their little caves and writing.

Talk about scary.


2 thoughts on “Will Work for Love

  1. Great post! Yup, that’s writing, all right (write? 😉 ): a labor of love.

    And I wholly relate to what you said about writing being a sweet comfort and sweeter than a million friends: writing works that way for me, and music does, too. I guess in this extroverted world such a sentiment would make people look askance at us, but as Walter Cronkite would have said, “That’s the way it is,” and really, I think it would be harder for an extrovert — a person who gets their energy from the outside world — to immerse himself/herself in developing a fictional world, an activity which depends on exploring and excavating the deep inner realms.

    Wow, sounds like things are going great with your novel — WOO HOO! 🙂 That’s a marvelous feeling!

  2. Hi, Thomma Lyn! Thank you so much for visiting!

    People have the notion that I’m an extrovert, when really I’m an introvert who has to work at being extroverted. It takes an enormous amount of energy, and lately I’ve begun to feel that that’s a waste of energy I could otherwise use to write! Writing itself takes stamina, with all the emotional and intellectual resources you have to harness in order to get just the right words out.

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m totally loving it.


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