…to bring you a few more thoughts on the joys of writing. I didn’t have time to read much at since Monday because I’ve been working on revising last year’s novel from National Novel Writing Month. It’s a project that’s been nagging me since June (when I decided I had put it off long enough). Ha! Even people like me, who despise procrastination and fight it with every ounce of will stored in these anal retentive genes, find that certain tasks are…well, easy to ignore.
For me, editing is an easily ignored task. Do I know that it makes for a more polished (or in the case of this particular novel, more comprehensible) final product? Of course. Does that mean I want to sit down and get to it when I could be reading, reviewing, or writing for pay? Of course not. For me, editing falls only slightly above research on the Necessities of Writing checklist, and let me tell you, research is very far down the list.
This week, however, my paid project was on halt while my writing partner was in Pennsylvania leading a retreat, and for some reason, I could not settle down into any of the books I have waiting for me. I wandered around the house failing to vacuum, dust, or put away a single thing. I went on a few meandering, slow runs. I longed for grueling workouts at the gym just because they were a distraction from my complete lack of productivity. I called my dad twice; the first time, he was delighted – he second, he smelled a rat, and I had to admit I was killing time until my brain kicked into gear. He was not amused. Finally, after checking Twitter for the fortieth time in an hour, I couldn’t avoid it any longer…my novel wanted to be read, and it wanted to be read now.
It was, in a word, schlocky. You want two more? Try “hot mess.” Over the course of two and a half days, I cut about four thousand (of fifty) words, and if I were to go through it again, I’m sure plenty more could go. One of the tricks I inadvertently use during my November novel-writing frenzy is to write six sentences where one (or even none) would do. I don’t know how many times I found myself hesitating even when it was obvious a line had to go. “The phrasing,” I thought to myself, “the phrasing is so clever! How can I ever let this beautiful sentence be lost?” Then I would read it again, this time out loud, give into a fit of laughter (because honestly, I wrote the most maudlin adventure/love story imaginable) and cut the entire paragraph.
About six chapters in, however, I got a big surprise, sandwiched between awkward romance and leather breeches (yes, one of the characters wears breeches, and he wears them well). I realized I had absolutely no recollection of writing a whole section of the plot, and it…wasn’t terrible. As it turns out, I had actually forgotten about sixty percent of the story. When I got to the last page, my first thought was, what kind of idiot writer would leave the story mid-paragraph?! Cliff hangar much? I railed about this for an embarrassing minute before remembering that, in fact, I was that idiot writer, and I had probably ended it there because I hit the fifty thousand word mark and my laptop battery was dying.
What really struck me about that moment though, was that it meant, even in the midst of all that chopping and margin-scribbling, I had gotten swept up in the story to the point that I was genuinely curious about what happened next. Sure, the book was filled with over-wrought glances and hokey fantasy clichés, but I liked it enough to want more, and I don’t think anything is as thrilling to a writer as knowing that even one person wants more. Sure, that one person is me, but I count, right? I’ve read more than 100 books this year alone, and I would conservatively estimate 10,000 over the course of my lifetime, since as a child, I regularly read ten to twenty chapter books a week. I’m completely biased of course, but this pleasant reaction to my own work brings me to the point I really want to make.
If you write, and it intrigues even one person – you – it is a worthwhile endeavor. I love talking about the wonderful stories other writers publish, but I also believe it’s important to pause on occasion and remember that we all have the power to create something worth sharing. We may not end up on the bestseller list, but that’s not essential in order to be a productive and joyful member of the literary community. What I find to be the most rewarding part is the opportunity to be surprised by the written word. It moves me when I write something that builds anticipation, earns a laugh, encourages angst – even when I know it doesn’t compare to the emotional resonance achieved by my favorite authors. I love books, both my own and (even more) those written by others, for what they ask of me as a reader: they serve, as Kafka so eloquently says, as the ax for the frozen sea within us.
So go – write, read, edit, create – allow yourself to be at the mercy of the written word, and see where it takes you.