I hate writing for the same reason I love it: a writer is on her own. Sometimes I wish someone would come along and direct me--a little benevolent dictatorship can be a comforting thing-- but the creative process doesn't work like that. It doesn't respond to the whip hand of an overseer, the way (maybe) the body does. It's more like a soufflé that deflates if you open the oven door.
I felt totally deflated earlier this week. After two months of reading about communications, no fluffy yet substantive ideas were rising in my brain. In the middle of the night, I was even flirting with the idea of returning the publisher's advance--a pittance, believe me, but currently invested in commodities (that is, my groceries)--return it because I could not figure out how to start writing.
Every time I tried, it sounded like the deep, soporific tone of a documentary narrator:
"From the dawn of human communications, our ancestors strove to develop faster and more efficient means to convey information across long distances. Now, in the 21st century, we are living through a revolution in..."
So, I gave up. For three days in a row, I sat here in this Ethan Allen-style (ugly but comfortable) rocking-chair and consumed three seasons of 30 Rock, Tina Fey's brilliant updating of the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
All 66 episodes.
That's 20 hours of TV within 72 hours: the mental equivalent of a lost weekend of brownie bingeing. The surge, the shock, the slump... and then click on "watch next episode" for the last time all over again. I finished watching the series at 2 a.m. and went to bed loathing myself, like you do after a binge.
My brain woke me up at 5 a.m., full of ideas about how to write the book. What was my problem? How could I have missed that any historical material that includes cannibalism, even tangentially, is offering you the best attention-grabbing opener you could want? Yes, it's a bit of a stretch, but metaphors are plenty stretchy.
That morning, I wrote up my ideas in a spiral-bound notebook. Do you ever write on paper? I pretty much stopped around 2003, except to my 85-year-old Auntie Vi, who doesn't like computers. I like the way e-writing looks like it's already publishable as soon as you type it onscreen. I edit my writing a lot, but the way newly written stuff looks finished makes me feel that what I'm writing is good.
That's been helpful for a writer like me, who's constantly running interference on herself.
But I guess I don't need, or want, this project to look finished right from the start. Because it's not going to be. I even suspect that the polished look might lure me into thinking I'm done, whereas I'm nowhere near. Looking at pages on which two-thirds of the writing is scratched out isn't putting me off, as it has in the past. It looks like a messy kitchen and broken eggshells. A work in progress.