July 21, 2006

Easy as Pie

Recently I was talking with someone who was telling me how truly easy it must be to be a writer. All that free time, connecting with your inner self..especially since I wrote funny books! What was my process? How did I embrace my muse, release my creativity? How incredible, fulfilling and pleasant a way to spend your working life.

I smiled and nodded, because once someone believes that being a writer is a sort of easy thing, where one somehow connects to their happy place and pours words onto paper with wild abandon, there's no convincing them that it's like any other job. I also kept my mouth shut because I'm at the hard part of a book and I'm so whacked out that I have no idea what I'd say if I tried to explain. Some things you don't want to get into when you're tired and you don't have a delete key. Being a writer is a pretty wild job and lucky job, but easy?

People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it.
-Harlan Ellison

In the beginning I thought that being a writer would be easy. You work from home, you make your own hours, you sit with a notebook and pen under the gently blowing trees, letting the words just drip onto the paper, embracing the creative process and relishing bringing your ideas into being. (Not only was I naive, I apparently forgot that Toronto has a 58 day summer.) It's a funny thing, but the more I work at writing, the more I come to understand about what it does to you. Writing (even funny stuff) is one of the most hateful things I've ever done, even though the payoff is the most fulfilling. I'm working on book four, and bracing myself for a tour for number three, and I don't think I can apply the word "easy" to any part of it. Parts are wonderful, parts are interesting, parts I wouldn't trade for a second...but easy?

I hate writing; I love having written.
- Dorothy Parker

Wouldn't you think that someone who has wished her whole life to be a writer and has suddenly been blessed with such good fortune as to have three books published would get up every single morning and throw herself at her desk with glee, happiness and gratitude? Don't answer that. I'm already wracked with guilt that I don't do that. I'm also apparently criminally stupid, since I've clearly forgotten what it was like to try to finish the other books. Towards the end of book writing I am shaky, sad, exhausted and out of my mind. I'm sure that Joe and the girls would like to add that I am also unreasonable, obnoxious and loud. (Very loud.)

I ... have to constantly balance "being a writer" with being a wife and mother. It's a matter of putting two different things first, simultaneously.
- Madeleine L'Engle

Book writing is strange and scary. You can't tell how long you're going to have to do it, what time you're going to finish, if it's going to be alright when you do finish, or if you're going to spend 3 hours dragging 500 words out of your brain only to look at them, realize 467 of them are complete crap and hit the delete key as you sob for the 14th time because you're going to need to find a way to carve another 3 hours out of your responsibilities as a mother, probably so that you can write more complete drivel that no-one would ever like to read, knowing the whole time that your deadline is running out while you ponder that you've made an enormous mistake and really should go to work in a factory, where at least you can tell if you're getting something done and no-one tells you your punctuation is crap and it doesn't matter if you're not funny. The more I write, the more I worry. Will this work? How will it work? Are we out of orange juice? Is that a complete sentence? Am I procrastinating? Do I suck? Where's my knitting?

It's nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums to get rid of.
- Shirley Hazzard

I am torn somehow between being profoundly aware of my luck, desperately grateful for the opportunity and deeply, deeply frightened. The only thing I know for sure about this book (and this was true of all of them) is the day that I will be finished. The odd feeling of being given only a destination with no map of how to get there is the scariest thing that I have ever felt, and the very worst part is that the knowledge that book writing takes months and months.

When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day's work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.
- John Steinbeck

This sense of uncertainty, this feeling of being thrown on a journey and not knowing what it will be like, how I will get there, if I'm good enough to get there or what it will be like when I arrive leaves me angst ridden and...to be completely honest, difficult to be around. I stomp around the house alternately ranting about the mess (because I'm not cleaning because I'm writing, but I'm not really writing) explaining that I need to be alone with my thoughts (when I have three kids and a husband who have a right to be here) and sitting in my office with my head down, typing like a house afire. It's how to carve that process, the thinking, the stomping, the deleting the laughing the sobbing, the ideas, the relief...out of a family summer with everyone around all the time that compounds the difficulty of writing.

As a writer, I need an enormous amount of time alone. Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write. Having anybody watching that or attempting to share it with me would be grisly.
- Paul Rudnick

During this phase, this scary part, I am drawn to knitting. I love that it's easy to finish. Easy enough to balance almost all of that other stuff. One row, one stitch...there's your accomplishment. It's black and white. Either you have knit or you have not, either the pattern is right or it is not. Knitting has this reliable rhythm that comforts a freaked out obsessive compulsive writer who's edging their way through the grudge match that is finishing a book. I especially like the simpleness of socks. It's all about these socks right now.


I think it's ironic that the lady who told me that writing must be so easy also felt that knitting was way too hard. I'm still laughing about that a little.

See you Monday, when yours truly, a deranged and desperate writer will begin a week of tour in the fine city of Chicago, meeting knitters and getting to procrastinate on the book with some serious style. I'm scared to death, and I can't wait.

Posted by Stephanie at July 21, 2006 12:08 PM