When It All Comes Out on the Page

I sat down to work on the novel yesterday.  It didn’t go well.  Sometimes, that’s just how writing is.

My parents came for a visit this weekend – it was lovely, and I plan to share details of our adventures once the photos are ready.  We spent most of our time out of the house driving around Loudoun County, and we introduced my mom and dad to a lot of our friends.  The wine was flowing Friday night and Saturday.  We ate, we drank, we sang (a lot).  We had fun.  By Monday morning, I was feeling pretty tired.  Exhausted.  Drained, even.

I woke up Monday wondering if, sometime during the wine-drinking, the eating, and/or the singing, I’d made a fool of myself.  Was I attentive enough to my parents?  Was I friendly and talkative?  Was I rude?  Did I say the wrong thing?  This kind of post-social anxiety happens to me a lot, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.  Usually, I’ll have a cup of coffee and a bite of chocolate and let the feeling pass.  But on Monday, all of that anxious energy made its way onto the page as I tried to write.

I’m not that far along in my novel yet, and the scenes I was working on yesterday weren’t critical.  It was discouraging, though, to find my own insecurities infecting my characters.  It was hard to see my own worries make their way into the action.  They didn’t belong there.  So I stopped.  I put the laptop down.  I folded some laundry, made the bed, fed the dog, and checked my email.  When I picked the laptop back up, I still couldn’t focus.  Yesterday, as it turned out, was not a productive writing day.

And that’s okay.  It’s really, really okay.  I’ve heard a lot of writers talk about writing:  “Not in the zone today?  Too bad – put some words on that page and move on.”  I think that’s a good practice.  But sometimes, you just can’t.  Sometimes, you need to take some time to get over whatever mental hurdle is in your way. When you write, at the end of the day, the words on the page are your words, and the story is your story.  When you write, your work is you, and that’s scary and exhilarating and intoxicating and magic.  It also means that you have to take care of yourself.  You have to get yourself to a place where the words flow, and the characters aren’t portraits of your own insecurities, and the action isn’t a collection of your own problems.  Unless, of course, that’s the kind of book you’re writing, and that’s fine too.

It’s not easy, sometimes, to get to that place.  That’s just how writing is.  I didn’t make it yesterday.  I barely made it today.  And that’s okay.  As long as I keep putting words on the page, as long as I don’t give up, that’s okay.


What I’m Reading This Week

I started my morning today with Kurt Vonnegut and a cup of coffee.  I’ve been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut since high school.  I cried the night he passed away.  I think he wrote about the world in a way that was true enough to be illuminating, but gentle (and funny) enough to be palatable.  A modern Mark Twain.  So I was excited when I heard that a book of his personal letters would be published, and I’ve been reading it, and taking my time with it, this week.

Titled just Letters, the collection is vivid Vonnegut.  Witty, self-deprecating, and sarcastic, but also kind and insightful.  There are introductions and notes throughout the book by Dan Wakefield, who knew Vonnegut personally, that provide context, and it’s so fun to read Vonnegut’s thoughts on his books while they were in progress.  He spends time on other topics, as well (politics and world events, his family and friends, his career), though I’ve enjoyed his thoughts on writing the most.  He was as sharp in his personal letters as he was in his published works.

Reading Letters this week, I now firmly believe people don’t write enough anymore.  The truth is, I was appalled when I learned that “tl;dr” was a thing.  What do you mean, “too long; didn’t read?”  If you took the time to write something for me to read, then I’d read it, because that’s what respectful people do.  And if I wrote something for you to read, I would be careful to say only what I needed to say, because that’s what good writers do.  William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White told me so.

What I’m getting at here is that writing is important.  Writing, even just letters to family and friends, helps you find your voice.  Once you’ve found it, you’ll feel comfortable and confident expressing what you have to say.  It’s true that everyone has an opinion, but if you can express yours coherently, persuasively, and ultimately in a voice that is true to who you are, you’ll rise above the noise and you’ll be heard.  Finding your voice gives you power.  So do it!  Write notes on napkins.  Write a few quick lines about your day before you crawl into bed.  Write a letter to your mom – I’m serious, Mother’s Day is coming up.

Or, if you’re crazy like me, write a novel that keeps you awake at night like a screaming baby.