Saturation Point

Sit down, we need to talk.

Recently I’ve been observing some rather disturbing patterns in your behavior.

It all started out innocently enough. You had an idea, then a dream, then a plan. You were going to be a writer.

In the beginning, you wrote.

And verily, your writing was crap.

So you started hanging out in a dimly-lit bookstore, trying to look casual leaning against the shelf while stealing secrets from books on writing. You fully intended to buy one or two. Eventually. But books are expensive and you weren’t a wealthy author yet. Did you notice the stares from bookstore employees? No, they weren’t upset that you were stealing secrets. They were jealous that you actually had time to read. But you felt guilty nonetheless.

You adjusted your plan.

Your children noticed the switch from brand name peanut butter to generic and your husband wondered out loud why you were washing food storage bags for re-use, but none of them guessed what you were doing with the money skimmed from the food budget.

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird was first. Then Betsy Lerner’s The Forest For the Trees. Before long, your bookshelf at home looked exactly like the one in the bookstore.

Then came the blogs. The editor’s blogs. The agent blogs. The author blogs. That blog. This blog*. Oh, my, the blogs. You subscribed until your Google Reader was begging for mercy. But you didn’t stop there. You signed up for Facebook and befriended other writers. You signed up for Twitter and followed the pied pipers of publishing.

You were somewhat troubled when you kept hearing the same bit of advice, “read lots of great novels,” because where would you find the time?

“Not tonight, dear, I have a headache.” And I need to finish Cutting for Stone.

“Hey kids, tonight it’s ‘eat whatever you want’ night! Have fun and don’t forget to clean up the kitchen.” I have to get back to The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.

You found the time.

My friend, you have a problem…

You’re addicted to becoming a writer.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with learning the craft and keeping up with trends. But you’re not a new writer anymore and you’re pruning in the stale, cold water of too much advice. Yes, this was a particularly bad metaphor. You know this because you’ve read a lot about metaphors, about how they can be distracting if they’re overwrought. You can’t have that sort of distraction in your novel. Nope. Never. You will not write a substandard novel, dammit!

What novel?

When was the last time you wrote…just wrote?

It’s okay to cry. I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to help you.

Time to adjust the plan again. You have tons of good writing advice in you. It’s there, even if you can’t see it. And now it’s time to get even better. By simply writing.

Put away the books on craft. Shut down the 27 tabs on your browser. You can go back to your craft books and blogs later. Much later.

Now is the time to stop being an addict to an idea. Now is the time to be what you’ve always wanted to be: a writer.

So write.

You’re better than you think you are.

 

*You clicked the link, didn’t you. Point made.

Listen

A good writer is always listening.

She listens to the voices of the long-dead, straining to hear writerly wisdom that only time and tide can reveal. She leans a little closer to Hemingway to discover the curious power of understatement and word economy. She plops down next to Dostoyevsky with her moral compass in hand and looks for truth in the floating needle that only points north when Fyodor tells it to.

She listens to the voices of the successful. Stephen King raises an eyebrow in reply when she removes a dozen sharp objects from her purse and asks, “which would you use to kill a clown?” James Patterson and his twenty-seven clones answer with a unison smile when she mutters the word “prolific” as both question and expletive. She eavesdrops on someone else’s conversation with Stephenie Meyer, then casually bumps into her on the way out, waiting until the elevator door closes before anxiously examining her coat sleeve for sparkly vampire dust.

She listens to the voices of the experts. She goes to Nathan Bransford’s place and comments generously and often, hoping for a karmic space kapow of the writerly kind. She’s certain the Query Shark can smell her coming, so she only visits when someone else is already bleeding in the water. Seven days a week she wanders the library-like halls of Rachelle Gardner’s comfy-chair home on the web. “It smells like books and coffee here.”

She listens to the voices of struggling peers. She shakes her head at the complainer who hasn’t written a decent word apart from his biting (if misguided) rant about the dearth of good novels being published today. She steps aside and allows a crit group partner the floor to dance her “Oh, why did I ever think I could be a writer?” pavane. She cries a little when her bestie reads from a heartbreakingly brilliant w.i.p., then schedules her own pavane for next crit group.

She listens to the voices of the underheard and the overexposed.

She listens to the voices of the broken and the perfect. The certain and the lost. The sellers and the buyers. The front-tablers and the remainders. The winners and the losers. The dreamers and the realists.

And as she listens to these voices, she nurtures and refines the most important voice of all.

Her own.

Instinct is a learned magic.

Vivisection

If you watch a writer in a coffee shop, you won’t be particularly impressed by her work. You might not even notice that she’s working. The external act of writing is a mundane thing. It is quiet, often deathly so.

ten fingers tapping

long sighs and silent swearing

insomnia cure

You have to slice a writer in half to reveal the invisible truth.

Writing is sudden bursts of brilliance racing ahead with yellow-jersey speed while you labor to catch up with tricycle typing fingers.

It’s a magnificent ache and pointless pursuit sandwich smothered in what-the-hell-was-I-thinking sauce.

It’s creation and destruction. Hope and despair. Love and love and more love.

And death. Lots of death.

It’s making friends and enemies. Then making enemies of friends with a press of the delete button.

It’s a whisper where a shout should be and a shout where the story is yelling at you to whisper.

Writing shrieks like that child screaming for another cookie. It cries like that old man who used to come every Sunday with his wife but now sits alone.

Writing is an empty balloon where your brain should be. It’s a world on the tip of your tongue. It’s a thunderstorm and a desert, a song and an empty stage.

It’s walls everywhere you turn…

You want to jump off a bridge. Wait…a bridge. Yes!

…and inspiration when you least expect it.

Writing is the reason “argh!” is a word.

Your wrists hurt, your head hurts, your heart hurts. You want to throw the computer across the room. You want to marry it.

Writing is a beautiful violence.

But you wouldn’t know it by watching a writer in a coffee shop.

ten fingers tapping

paradox of perfect calm

she is building worlds