Damn Near Impossible: On Writing

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For God’s sake, don’t do it unless you have to … it’s not easy. It shouldn’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be impossible, and it’s damn near impossible. (Frank Conroy)

Hard to believe that a writer as well-known as Frank Conroy would have the same feelings I do, but that’s what he said. Conroy, who published only five books, including Stop-Time, which was nominated for the National Book Award, said that he had to reread everything he’d written the day before so he’d know what to write next. I feel pretty happy about that, Mr. Conroy, because that’s exactly what I find myself doing on the rare day that I can force myself to sit down long enough to get back into my main character’s head. Spending hours trying to figure out how to squeeze out just the right words, seems like a big waste of time.

Conroy also believed that the work leads the writer. Amen! I’ve been saying that for years. But what I want to know is why it’s leading me so slowly? Admittedly, Dancing Naked in the Rain, took me five years to write—a bit of an exaggeration, but close enough. The main character, Megan McEller, did manage to prod me along more quickly in the sequel, Stars Walking Backward, and, together, we managed to complete that journey in half the time as Dancing Naked in the Rain.

Now, the third of the trilogy, Voices in the Dark,  is a romantic mystery beginning with Megan’s struggle to … oh, never mind … just read Voices after you finish the other two. That is, if I ever finish it. Once again the written word has me staring at a blank sheet of paper—a bit of an exaggeration as it’s well over 50,000 words, but I just wish I could write faster—that it would come more easily. Conroy is right. It ain’t that easy.

Staring at the Page

So I must end with the words of another well-known writer, the playwright and poet Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He was Irish, by the way, just as I am. At least Irish blood runs in my veins, along with German and English. Anyway, he said you write with ease, to show your breeding,/But easy writing’s vile hard reading.

Hooray! Maybe I’m doing something right.

Writers: Dare to Be Unhappy

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Each time I sit down to write, my heart begins this obnoxious thumping, seeming to warn me that I’m about to do something risky. You would think I had an appointment for my yearly exam, the old ‘put your feet in the stirrups’ and stare at the ceiling while the doctor gropes around for something neither one of us is expecting or desiring. Fortunately she doesn’t often discover anything. But when I sit in front of the computer with pounding heart and labored breathing, discovering something is exactly what I’m afraid isn’t going to happen.

Writing should be fun–and it is to an extent. Especially when you finally finish the novel you’ve struggled with for months or, perhaps, years. At least, for a while, but then you’ve got to sweat out wondering if anyone will even notice. (Excuse me, I’ve got to get on-line and check out my sales for the umpteenth time today.) Nope. Damn!

I guess you’ve guessed that I’m not always happy when I’m writing. Ironically, I’m even more unhappy when I’m not. Oh, I may be dancing wildly with anyone who’s brave enough to share the floor with me or clapping and cheering without any modesty for my grandson as he bows after his piano concerto or even rolling raucously around on the floor with my daughter-in-law’s Shih Tzu, Nala. From all appearances I have a perfectly joyful life. However, there’s always a tiny voice in my head that keeps repeating, “You should be writing … you should be writing …you should be writing.

I  feel quite confident in my feelings. After all, the incomparable Ben Jonson said, “Who casts to write a living line, must sweat.” More simply: Writing’s work. “Let’s face it, writing is hell” (William Styron) or “It’s a nauseous process” (Rebecca West). However, I must admit that once the juices start flowing, my heart beat slows and my breath comes more easily.

Yesterday I finally sat down again to work on my third novel, Voices in the Dark. It’s the third in the trilogy, The Beryl Stone Series. Getting started wasn’t easy. From 9 a.m. to 11:30, I had to reread what I’d written, make notes, etc.–after all, it had been three weeks since I’d sat down to write. At 11:30 I escaped to the rec center to clear my head and, then, began to make headway in the afternoon. I’m happy I managed to write a bit over 1000 words in that time, but unhappy because it took me so long to begin. And there’s the fact that I can’t write again until this afternoon as my morning is jammed with the paraphernalia of life. I should be writing … I should be writing … I should be writing.

I think I’ve “simply got the instinct for being unhappy highly developed.”