Zoikes, things are moving along now. I’ve been moving into the third act and rounding out the second. What required the break-through? Unflagging pursuit, I reckon.
I reckon that just as growth is a sign of life, pursuit is one of the crucial characteristics of man. Not for naught was “the pursuit of happiness” inserted into the American declaration of independence, into its self-definition and birth vows. Because so long as we can pursue, we feel free.
Anyhow, writing is no easy slog, and the pursuit requires work, more work and then more; discipline, more discipline, and then still more in the face of a blank wall that looms immovable before us; and a bizarre concoction of faith, imagination, obstinacy and a self-wielded blindfold (to protect us from masterpieces past as well as from the red wet proof of our own blubbery weaknesses in the first draft).
Why on earth would anyone write, given the heavy bag of tools we must carry and wield, and the long duration of this exercise in self-torture? I can only conclude that writers are crazy; if we’re not crazy before we start, certainly we lose our tenuous grip on sanity by the very act of pursuing our stories to their right end.
This is what writing is: It’s giving birth to a child that will not come out easily, but keeps moving in the womb—and you yourself are both mother and midwife, and none of your bodily functions are happening by rote; you yourself must direct every step. You need to tell each cell what hormones to release, you must refer to them by name and order and execute precisely the physiological action you need, and you must massage your own back for pain and accept whatever ripping is occasioned by the birth—all the while not knowing if your child will be healthy when he or she emerges. That blood on the child and in it is all yours.
That’s what writing is, I reckon. But most times it feels more like taking a very big shit. [Oops, late language warning.]
Which again highlights writers’ madness. Imagine this discipline practiced each day for months—years—all for one good shit. Man… And all those folks before us who’ve scrunched their best effort into their best fertilizing literature.
So even we beginning writers have something in common with our literary heroes—Oscar Wilde must have felt this way too; wanted to tear his hair out at his ineptitude. Keats wondered if he’d ever live up to the star he was reaching for deep inside his gut. Jane Austen cursed the difficulty of credibly getting Elizabeth back to Darcy. Tolkien thumped a pillow damning his inability to get all the threads of his story to feel equally real. JK Rowling struggled to hit that fine balance of humor and a sense of impending crisis. Shakespeare groaned at the work required to make Romeo both convince of his love and also rhyme. Joyce touched his words tentatively to feel if they fit right but still popped off the page with life. Hardy struggled to not overdo foreshadowing. Rilke froze when the words felt false, and gasped in relief when the flood of true words finally returned. Wordsworth scribbled as fast as he could to capture an epiphany of wording only to see just one phrase really worked that time around.
Is writing not madness? When Iris Murdoch was first afflicted with Alzheimer’s she took it for writer’s block. Writing is madness, just as not writing becomes the same once a tale is started.
All mad. But normalcy is just so plain boring. What excitement is passion, that mad bent that is inspiration joined with dedication to the long slog that is realizing one’s idea—realizing it right.