The part in between
There is the idea of writing. There is the act of writing. Then there is everything in between.
That’s where I have all the trouble.
This thought came to me in the middle of a shower and lingered with me all day. The thought came with such a sharp flash and the easy glibness of a not very good thought that I didn’t expect to remember it later. But there it was, rattling around all day, while I ate a slice of pizza, shopped for clothes for my daughter, put together a bed for my son, pulled out of a tight parking space, browsed through the bookstore.
The bookstore was a big reprimand. It should be inspiring, or intimidating, or even enviable. Not today. The bookstore said to me, “hey, if you’re not going to deal with all the things in between the idea of writing and the actual writing, then you should just drop it. You are just going to frustrate yourself and waste your time.”
I felt so exposed that I couldn’t even talk to the book lady.
I mean that literally. She walked into the nook where I was standing and my immediate reaction was to want to slip between two books into the stacks. Nothing she did warranted the reaction. It was just that the bookstore had thoroughly called me out, and I figured that when the bookseller looked at me in the aisle, shopping bags sprouting from both fists, she assumed that I was just another tourist in the world of books. Worse, if I tried to say something in her language, my accent would be off and I would get the syntax wrong, becoming more pathetic in my attempt to make it look like I knew what is going on.
She walked off without taking note of me. I was left with that thought rattling around in my head.
This was the second part of the thought.
If you going to have all this trouble with the part in between, why even bother trying to get through it.
The part in between is everything that I have to do to get to the part where I write, and to make the things that I write fit into the ideas that I have about writing.
The part in between is thinking through the idea of the book, laying out the framework, building the story and the characters, making the schedule to write and then following it. The part in between is avoiding all of the distracting other ideas that flash into my mind every other moment. It’s pushing through to the end no matter how the work turns out. That’s everything that is in between.
It is hard work and more often than not I’m not successful.
That feels crappy.
While I stood in the shower I did a quick calculus: you are 53, and you’ve got a lot on your plate. You need to build your business back to where it can provide security for your family. You have children to spend time with, a wife you love being around. Every one of these things–these important, necessary and worthy things–can take every minute of the day. Even if you write the things you plan to write, it’s not likely to amount to much of anything. You don’t express yourself as clearly, think as originally, as other people you read or encounter. And wouldn’t you feel more comfortable in your life if you weren’t always beating yourself up about not keeping to the work schedule that you set out for yourself.
How would you answer yourself?
I fall back on an odd kind of personal faith.
This line of thinking is a reaction to the discomfort that comes with writing for me. This discomfort is so profound that I didn’t write for more than 15 years. I am writing now and I can’t let the voice of discomfort get me off track.
One thing I’ve learned is that this line of thought isn’t going to change. I am always going to struggle to get the work done and I am never going to be pleased with myself. My job is making sure that frame of mind never matters, that it doesn’t keep me from writing too long.
I’m even embarrassed to be writing this. There are people who I admire for their creative fortitude who are dying. The country is processing an unthinkable tragedy. Good artists can’t get an opportunity to be heard. Storytellers are patiently crafting stories of the present that leave people feeling hollow and overwhelmed. My crude practice of a craft is of little consequence to these big themes. Nor is it material to the life that I lead day by day as a father, husband, business man.
The only reason it matters is because it is something that I can’t shake, this habit of thinking about writing, planning writing, and the writing. Yes, the writing. I like to write.
I don’t subscribe to endings. The world is a series of discontinuations. When I stop here, I’ll pick up somewhere else. By leaving here, I’ll acknowledge that I would be much more comfortable if I didn’t worry about writing, that the writing I do won’t amount to much, but that I’ll keep plugging along in my trivial work regardless, bearing the discomfort and hoping that I get far enough out of my own way that I finish this work I want to do and that someday, somehow somebody reads it.