Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another Kind of Waiting

We’ve already talked about the waiting place. You know, that place where you bite your nails and ignore your real life and haunt your inbox for an acceptance. Where you play mind games to distract yourself, or you convince yourself that if you just don’t think about it, it will happen. Or, if you do think about it, you can make it happen. The power of positive thinking, of love coming to you when you least expect it, the delusions we conjure up because the truth of how much we really do control is beyond disheartening.

Today, we’re waiting for a different thing. It comes from a different place. Before, I cautioned you not to wait—a watched pot never boils—but today, with this different thing, I say hunker down. I say, keep still. Be absolutely silent. Listen.

I hate the term writer’s block because it sounds like there’s something in the way—an obstruction to move. People think writer’s block means you’ve run out of ideas. I’ve never heard of that actually happening to anyone. (Has it happened to you? To anyone you know?) Much more often, the problem is just the opposite. There’s too much. Too many things happening, too many choices, too many characters, too many things you could do with the character and not a one of them seems to fit. Or, they all seem to fit.

Or—and I think, that if you’re any good, this happens to you all the time—you come to realize that what you want to write is just too big. Good writers always want to achieve more than they can. They take on more than they can handle. The good writer has dreamed up something so, so big and important and beautiful, and suddenly, everything’s a mess. Suddenly, everything that you want to work—what you know should work, what has to work—everything that you love about your story or your novel or even just a particular character explodes or fizzles out or evaporates or, worse, turns back on itself—the story begins to fight itself.

First thing, don’t panic.

Second, wait. Wait, but don’t do nothing. Instead of moving forward, move downward. I mean, dig. Dig under what you have there, see what’s beneath it. Deepen. Sit still and ponder. Take a break. Do not be anxious, do not be in a hurry, but do be diligent. Be thorough. Be exact. Do not waver, do not settle. Just wait.

Take a deep breath. You’re okay. The answer--the next sentence or word or chapter--will come.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I'm Outta Here

So, the other night, we’re dining at our friends’ house. Indian food. (I don’t cook, so I like to seek out friends who do…) My four-year-old son, dressed up as a princess. He breaks a plastic Cinderella heel in his exuberant princessness. Our friends’ three-year-old, who is a princess. A nineteen-month-old baby, terribly, terribly cute…jumping and screeching and shoving food into his cute little face. My eight-year-old, afraid to touch any kind of food that has been touched by any kind of spice. Or, any kind of food that is not string cheese or apple slices. Or brownies. My husband, telling odd and all-too-true stories about himself. (I love you, dear.)

The conversation turns to vacations. Our friends have just been to Israel and Egypt. My daughter perks right up to match them with this: “We’re going to Illinois later this summer for a family reunion. We’re driving there.” (Her mother, who doesn’t want the expense and trouble of flying like we did last time, has convinced her that eleven hours in the backseat with her little brother will be the ultimate adventure…)

Our friend asks, “Chicago?” She’s hopeful.

Uh, no. Gilman.


“But, guess where I’m going next week?” I’m excited. “To the beach!! Guess who I’m going with?”

“Your writing friends?” Again, she’s hopeful. She’s remembering that I do take an annual trip to the beach with my friends. But not this time…

“No. No friends, no husband, no kids—just me!!”

I get a little flutter-hearted, just saying it. I know the very spot at my parents’ beach house—at the kitchen table, in a big room whose blinds I intend to keep shut—where I plan to think a lot, drink a lot of coffee, and write, as madly and long as I can. I plan to read Cloud Atlas. I will re-read The Great Gatsby. The Idiot’s Guide to Einstein. Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. I will watch really bad television, eat diet microwave pizza, and knit—I have a new pattern! New, yummy yarn!—into the wee hours.

I can hardly wait.


We writers are weird. We’re solitary creatures. Kind of. I like what Audrey Hepburn has said on the art of being alone: “I don’t want to be alone. I want to be left alone.”

Next week, I’m removing myself. I’m eating Lean Cuisine, drinking coffee at all hours. Holing myself up in a beach house and barely touching the actual beach. I can’t wait.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wild with Hope

When I hit the long-awaited 12-week mark in what would prove to be my first successful pregnancy, I rushed out and bought a triple-pack of Gerber's one-piece sleepers. Size newborn, in non-gender-specific colors. I hit Barnes and Noble for a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting and, taking the book to the register, I tried to look like a person who was purchasing it for someone else. As if maybe, if I let my guard down and wore the expression of someone who was newly pregnant and optimistic about it, I would jinx the whole endeavor.

My sister had cautioned me not to buy anything at all until I was at least twelve weeks. Waiting longer would be better. She was looking out for me, of course, worried that if things didn't work out, I'd have tangible reminders of what I'd dared to hope for. This was practical and very wise, but I was a person who really, really wanted a baby. I tried to ignore my condition not to guard my hopeful little heart, but because I believed that wanting a thing too badly was the surest way to lose it.

After all, I had so little proof. A little queesiness. A pink line on the pregnancy test stick. A blinking dot on the ultrasound screen. Could a real-live human--only the size of a grain of rice at this point--actually be growing inside of me?

I've treated my writing aspirations with the same white-knuckle restraint. If I wanted it too badly, it just wouldn't happen.  I wrote on the sly, literally hiding away in closets and attic knee-walls, perched atop a pile of scratchy pink insulation.

When I was pregnant, I became an obsessive food label-reader. I quit eating hotdogs and feta cheese and tuna. I never, ever slept on my back, and I regularly took my prenatal vitamins even though they made me horribly nauseous.

Amazing what we think we can control. What good-luck rituals we cling to. On some level, I knew it was completely ridiculous to believe that my not eating hotdogs was what was keeping my gestating fetus alive. That my baby would be born, healthy and perfect, if I kept myself back from stocking up on too much dreft detergent. That writing where no one could see me would somehow make the writing better.

We try not to get our hopes up. We try not to be too audacious, to think too much of ourselves.

The irony is, of course, that these little rituals are fueled almost entirely by hope. By a bloated--and deluted--sense of our own power.

Of course, writing a book and carrying a baby are completely different in a number of ways. My body really did put that little person together with little help from my consious self, but I have to engage in a whole different level--I have to work like hell--to get a book or a story or even, sometimes, a sentence together.

And while I feel that, in either case, it really is important to keep our expectations in check, I also think there's something to be said for hoping. Essentially, to me, writing anything is about hoping it into existance. It's about building the baseball diamond and waiting for the players to emerge from the cornfield. Or about building the arc and waiting for the rain to start. Buying the three-pack sleepers and waiting for the thing inside me to undergo untold numbers of cell divisions, the growing and growing and growing--all those months of hope--into a tiny creature large enough and strong enough to inhabit what I've prepared for it.