Let’s face it, sometimes life gets in the way. In typical fashion, I come screaming around a corner, trying to do two things at once and SMACK! I run head first into it.
It is now Friday and I’ve gotten nothing done. Nothing. Zip. Nada. The children have both been desperately sick with a nasty flu bug – high fevers, excruciating headaches, and other assorted symptoms too disgusting to talk about. My brain is just a hunk of non-functioning gray matter taking up space in my skull right now.
The Novel lurks in a desk drawer like a restless demon. In the middle of the night, I can hear it scratching and banging, begging for attention. I ignore it. The sheer daunting nature of fixing what is wrong with it, imagining more things that might be wrong with it scares the bejabbers out of me.
At two-thirty in the morning, as I fill a glass at the kitchen sink, I contemplate killing the whole project.
In my gut I know I won’t kill it and then I wonder why the hell not. As I place cool wash cloths on a child’s fevered brow, I carry on this internal argument. At dawn I find myself asleep at the wrong end of our bed, curled up like a small dog.
I need to give myself a bit of a break. I am tired, half-sick, and over-caffeinated. I begin to doubt every single thing from my use of punctuation to my ability to construct a story to whether my voice is really mine.
The absolute worst thing any writer can do is ignore the natural voice. It would be like Taylor Swift trying to sing an aria from La Boheme. I’m no opera aficionado but I know that the result would be…painful. If anyone tries to tell Ms. Swift that she should cut a CD of operatic classics, she should take her hair and whip that person across the face with it.
My voice is pretty well-defined. Good thing because I’m a lousy imitator. I know its range and that’s what bothers me sometimes – is it too limited? Can it ever be richly layered, complex – like a very good wine? Wine, not whine…
My voice is sounding a bit strangled right now because I’m hyper-ventilating. Taking a deep breath, I open a book I’ve acquired entitled, A Passion for Narrative by Jack Hodgins. There is a passage that shines like a lighthouse’s beacon through coastal fog.
When the Irish writer John McGahern was asked how to write good fiction: “he replied that first you write one good sentence, and then you must write another good sentence to follow it.”
Alistair MacLeod said basically the same thing. He said he takes a long time to write because he’s careful with his sentences. He writes one sentence. He ponders it, speaks it out loud. Then he writes another. It is a slow, careful process.
This book by Hodgins also recommends throwing down a first draft quickly, with no editing or revising. Ha! I think that’s my problem. I keep forgetting that The Novel is still in shitty first draft stage. It’s not supposed to be pitch-perfect and it’s ok for parts of it to be horrible, ridiculous, unfettered, and foul.
There’s life: horrible, ridiculous, unfettered, foul. In the next moment, it’s sweet, lovely, and deeply satisfying. Writing is no different. Sometimes, the writer must just slow down and take a deep breath. And, some Advil.