“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” —George Orwell
This is my world lately. The story demon won’t come out but festers inside, banging against my heart.
Starting a new book can be a wonderful event underlying with doubt, fear, and the unknowing. And getting stuck in the middle of a book can be even worse. Every writer goes through times where the words won’t flow – or perhaps it’s all the wrong words, the wrong book. But to keep at it we write anyways. Clunky words. Terrible prose. Boring dialogue. We have to write through it to get to the other side. And sometimes give up one story for the true story we must write. There is no going over and under – only through.
There are times in a writing life where your words become stuck, frozen over in an empty winter.
My words got stuck last weekend. This was me.
I was free falling.
And then I was like …
I did all the things you do when stuck.
I journalled in character voice.
I free wrote.
I went for a bike ride.
I read writing resource books and took notes.
I read fiction.
No. No. No. Finally I stood up and yelled “I’m done!”
I turned off my computer. I put away my notebooks. I threw myself into manual labor around the house. Hauling things here and there. Diving into projects that had been waiting for attention while I was “writer-ing”.
And the whole time dang-and-blasting-it to no one in particular (my family was away camping). I questioned my writer existence.
Why am I writing this particular story? Should I go back to writing that other story? What kind of writer am I? What kind of writer do I want to be? Is this what this life is like – becoming lost and found … and lost again, over and over?
Oh, yes, we writers are D-R-A-M-A-T-I-C.
“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.” —Enid Bagnold
I labored all weekend throwing myself into physical projects that needed no exhausting thought behind them. All the while a fierce fist clenched my innards, oppressing my story. The demon had me and wouldn’t let go. I could hear its tormenting laugh telling me, “I will only let your story go when I feel like it!”
More dang-and-blast-its and then tears and then more dang-and-blast-its!
Perhaps it had to do with the fact my life has been bogged down as well. My husband and I have spent weeks going through everything my parents owned. My mother died a few years ago and my father downsized and shipped the entire contents of their life up to us in storage. 50 years of a shared life – a “collector’s” life, from their many relocations and European trips.
I was stuck in a past-life flood torrent.
Opening that storage unit was like opening a black hole and being sucked in. Box after box dominated our house. It looked like an episode of Hoarder’s. Besides the clutter jarring my senses, opening each box required diving into memories. Some funny. Some sad.
And then there was the ‘what do we do with it?’ Re-arrange. Make room. Two yard sales. One pick-up from Purple Heart. Bikes in the kitchen. A couch in the garage. A treadmill in the dining room. Many ads on Craig’s List. One downsized storage unit to a smaller unit with furniture we couldn’t make room for … but I couldn’t part with.
Then the emotional fray of pricing objects that were a part of my childhood and my mother long gone. It was saying goodbye to her all over again.
And then the added emotional fray of ‘why did I sell that?’ Ridiculous things like … a chamber pot. My mother had used them as trash baskets. I grew up with them. They were part of the landscape. Where did she get them? Were they from the working farm she grew up on in Kentucky? I visited it when she passed away. There it sits going back to nature in the woods.
Was this sold chamber pot part of my history and I let it go for $3.50? (I seriously want to know who went you-know in that pot!).
Tears. Over a sold chamber pot. Seriously.
At least I saved one. One is all you need. One of the right memory. The right story.
And chamber pots. Sort of fitting as I research medieval toilets for the young adult fantasy I am writing … err … or NOT writing at the moment.
Maybe I am putting too much pressure on myself. To write this story. To not let go. And I laugh as I think about what my mother would say. “Time to move on.” She would be right. She’s in my heart forever, not in any household item.
I need to let go. Of objects burdening me over the loss of my mother. Of the book I “must” write. Stuck by loss of story and sentiment.
Just let go.
And here’s the thing … there are no rules when it comes to writing a book. Each writer’s way is unique yet we all reach the same destination. Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it? What other job can be done so differently by every single person and yet have the same end product? A novel.
As I sifted through my parent’s past I also sifted through events, people, places, and ideas. And that fierce fist inside loosened.
Somewhere deeply hidden things began to burble.
A creative force fills my chest near bursting. I can feel the story inside. I feel the passion, the pain. I hear its music soaring. I well with emotion that cannot be contained. It sits in my fragile, broken place waiting to be pieced together from bits of me. This story that is yet to be. For I know it will be.
So … I let go. And I wait.
Waiting for the “unstuck”. And in the waiting a glimmer shines inside. The glimmer of the story I should be writing.
I pick up my pen and notebook and … I … begin. Beginnings are the best … but we need endings for them to happen.
And I take to heart what Ray Bradbury recommends.
“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”
—Ray Bradbury, WD
For I know that burning is better than never having been on fire at all.