It’s weird. It’s surprising. It’s nearly paradoxical. But there is a whole heap of fear and loathing among writers about the act of writing. As creative writing instructor Larry Donner says in the epic Throw Mama From the Train,
Remember, a writer writes, always.
This seems so evident as to be absurd, and yet it ain’t. As my favorite author David Foster Wallace (R.I.P.) said about his days teaching college-level creative writing courses (I’m sorta paraphrasing),
A lot of my advanced creative writing students like the idea of being a writer much more than actually writing anything.
Full disclosure, unlike Wallace’s advanced creative writing co-eds, I went in THE entirely opposite direction: I majored in Management Information Systems (a.k.a. IT). I was a geek for 20 years. Then, about exactly a decade ago—love does funny things to a man—I once again fell in love with writing as an escape, a lark, a lifeline to the past. It was easy, as it was not the foundation of my identity. I didn’t have to write to pay the light bill, and therefore, I wrote fearlessly with vigor and abandon.
But I mostly wrote essays.
Essays are nice. You can laser-focus on an argument, an idea, or a swift vignette and knock it out in an evening (or so). Over the course of a decade, I probably wrote a few hundred of them. Some of them were actually pretty great (if I do say so myself). But many of them were just mental masturbation for my own amusement.
Then, one day, I started a book.
Then, a year later, half done with my book, I accidentally started another one.
Then, a year later, I finished the “another one”.
Now, I’m editing it.
As compared to writing essays, writing a book is a differently colored horse to be sure. Edgar Lawrence Doctorow, who was an American novelist, editor, and professor, and best known internationally for his works of historical fiction (thanks Wikipedia) once said,
Writing is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
Yep, that’s pretty much the most succinct analogy for writing a novel ever.
And, so, you pretty much need to get into your car each night and drive somewhere with only your headlights to illuminate the journey. But for me, and most writers, it’s not as easy as just hopping into the car, turning the key, and carefully backing out of the garage. Sometimes, just finding the door to the garage is a struggle. Sometimes, you just stare at the car keys on the kitchen table as you drink bourbon all night.
I have thought a lot lately about the notion of “What is writing a book like?” For me, the car analogy is great, but it’s not apropos (enough). My version is more like this,
Writing is like asking a girl to dance. There is an alluring girl across the room. You want to ask her to dance. You are all nerves and diffidence. She is intimidating, she is captivating, and she is surely out of your league. So you ruminate, you shuffle from side to side, and you curse your two left feet. But at some point, you marshal the courage to look in her direction—to really see her. She is looking back at you. You immediately refocus on your feet, your face shades crimson, and your palms heat. A thousand butterflies take flight somewhere deep in your gut. When you dare to steal another glance, her beauty stirs your desire over your inadequacy. Eventually, your resolve boils over and you casually walk in her direction. She spots you and quickly averts her eyes. But she rejoins your gaze as you close the once impossible gap. You introduce yourself, you politely ask her to dance, and she graciously accepts. The first steps are awkward. But you quickly fall into a lusty rhythm. And as you dance the night away, you can’t fathom why you waited so long to ask her.
Writing is like that.
Copyright © 2020 – ∞ Blake Charles Donley
I too finished a few books the exact same way you did. Started on one, then started another when that was done, then another. The everyday work doesn’t feel substantial at the time, it’s as if I’ll never be done, but as long as I do it every day, I’ll actually reach the end. I just have to have faith. Thanks for sharing this, and I love the quotes you picked too!