One of the things that continues to surprise me about the writing life is how bloody impossible it can seem at times. I always feel that somehow I should have figured out how this whole thing works, but I swear that every single book is like learning how to write all over again. It’s learning not to break and run when you start dredging up those ghosts of the subconscious, those deep-down scary things that we do our best in our everyday lives to ignore. I’ve written five books now, and I know this is part of the process, and yet I am always surprised, dismayed, and panicked to find myself in this spot. I’m telling you this happens EVERY SINGLE FRIGGIN’ TIME.
Usually, I get a sense that this is about to happen because I become agitated and completely avoidant. I will whimper and pace the way dogs do before a bad storm. There will be a few days, maybe a week or two, sometimes even a month, in which the writing feels terribly stilted. False. Awful. The equivalent of small talk at a party where you don’t know anybody and you can’t leave yet because somebody else is driving, and so you just have to keep standing in the corner holding on to your sweating seltzer glass saying, “Really? How interesting. I did not know that about elephants.”
I hate this part. Hate it. These are the days when I come home with the comic book dark cloud scribbles over my head, and when my husband asks me how the writing’s going, I sigh and press my head against my palms and moan, “Terrible. I can’t figure this thing out. I don’t know anything about writing books. You have to tell them I don’t know how to write books. The last five books were a fluke, and now it’s over. Over, I tell you. I’m so sorry. I tried. I have to go watch The Simpsons now.”
If this part of the writing process were an iPod track list it would look like this:
Track #1: I Suck
Track #2: I’m Not Smart Enough to Write This Book
Track #3 No, This Is Different
Track #4: Maybe I Could Become a Firefighter/Gravedigger/Finger Puppeteer
Track #5: I Suck, Parts IV-VIII
Track #6: Why Can’t I Write Like (Fill in Blank)?
Track #7: This Doesn’t Happen To (Fill in Blank)
Track #8: Will You Help Me Fake My Death/It’s the Only Way/My Life in a Storage Unit Medley
Track #9: I Suck (Extended Dance Remix)
Track #10: What Was I Thinking?
Track #11: This Is Hopeless! (DJ Flail ‘N’ Whine Mix)
Track #12: So Overwhelmed I’m Underwater
Bonus Track: Also, I Hate My Hair
I’m in a weird no-(wo)man’s-land right now. BEAUTY QUEENS comes out next month, May 24th, and I’m very excited about that. (More to come. Watch this space.) But I need to make headway on the first book of the DIVINERS series. And I’m still trying to heal the broken elbows and keep the wheels of my non-writing life greased and working. So my attention is very divided.
When I’ve done school and library visits and people have asked me how I deal with writer’s block, I usually say that I do a free write. That the act of confession on paper helps me to get out of my own way.
So what would I tell you if I could? I would tell you that this book scares me. That on some level, it feels too big, too unwieldy, too…much. Like I’m a very small knight in ill-fitting armor dragging an untested sword, and I’m staring up at a gigantic, multi-headed, fire-breathing dragon who’s working a good smirk. (Those dragons, big on the smirk, which, if you ask me, is just overkill. I mean, dudes, you’ve already got flight and fire. Give the snark a rest.) These fears are, I’m sure, pretty universal. But in the moment, they feel so very personal.
This is the magic/curse of writing: That in crafting your fiction, you leave yourself open to sudden moments of unguarded truth, and you have to be willing to tolerate that again and again. You have to keep raising your sword and charging, even knowing you could retreat scorched and missing a limb. You have to keep doing it even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.
Right now, I’m sitting in a café in Brooklyn. It smells like hard-boiled eggs—not my favorite smell. The music is plaintive and reminds me of road trips through Texas countryside in the rain when the car has gone quiet and everyone is riding in some mutually respected bubble of silence, an unspoken recognition that some distances cannot be traveled so easily. There’s a lady having a loud conversation on her cell phone a few tables over, and if this were a movie, I would rip it from her hands and break it John Belushi-styles with a sheepish, “Sorry.” Behind this LJ screen, Scrivener waits with a smattering of half-thoughts, broken phrases, and ideas that I hope I can connect into paragraphs, then pages, and so on, into a story I want to tell, a story I have to tell though I don’t know why yet and I’m sure I won’t know for a long while. I hate what I’m wearing and my hair looks like shit and what I want to do is go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and feel all the towels. I want to look at all the perfectly made beds and imagine the life I would have with each one—“This polka dot duvet cover is for my imaginary beach house life, which will be free of care and worry; these paisley shams say, ‘Welcome to my townhouse in Cambridge; Fondue party in five.’” Or maybe I’d sit in the darkened halls of the Natural History Museum, one of my favorite places, and imagine myself as part of the antelope exhibit, eyes open and searching, ears alert, mouth mid-chew on some delicious grass. I want to escape, which is the very reason why I have to keep at it. Because I know something’s about to break through. And when it does, I really hope I’m there to catch it.
How’s your writing going?