Thumb Twiddling

Ah, it’s a funny time, this.

The manuscript of the new book is with my editor, and I am caught between two worlds.

I am still (always) thinking about FLIGHT RISKS, wondering what I can change to make it better, what works, what doesn’t.  There is still so much work to be done, and I know I am nowhere near finished with it.

And yet I can’t help but look forward to the novel I am yet to begin.  There’s something delicious about not having yet written a word of a book, and just letting ideas bounce around your head.  I think it’s all to do with the limitless promise and possibility that lies in the as-yet unwritten.  In her excellent collection of essays, THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE, Ann Patchett calls this thinking phase “the happiest time in the arc of my writing process” – largely because she hasn’t yet started to write anything down.  Even for Patchett, ideas get traduced by the act of putting words on paper and actually, you know, telling the story.

But I’m trying not to think too hard about that right now.  I have characters charging through my head, plot ideas and little bits of business to try and make sense of. I have a shelf of books to read for research and inspiration.  I am giddy with excitement at it all.  And yet here on my desk is the completed manuscript of FLIGHT RISKS, lumbering and imperfect, which I anxiously paw at every so often, cruelly reminding me of the vast chasm that inevitably exists between conception and execution.  I suspect that it is our lot, as writers, to be eternally disappointed with the results of our labors.  Patchett likens the act of writing to running over a butterfly with an SUV.  All that was once so beguiling and exciting is lost, vanished, dead on the page.

Cheerful stuff, I know.  Einstein famously defined insanity as the act of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  And sure, maybe writers are all, to a greater or lesser degree, a little crazy.  But as I marshal my thoughts and ponder what’s next, I prefer to think of this as an act of hope, not madness.

Perhaps it’s a little of both.

Comments 1

  1. Thank you for the reminder that I need to read THIS IS A STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE. Patchett’s a writer who does essays as well as novels.

    I’ve always seen writing as an act of hope. When I think of all the books I’ve read that gave me some kind of hope at different points in my life, I think about what a responsibility, in ways, writing novels can be when one considers what they may give to a reader. Seeing writing as something with hope on both ends is reassuring — and while it’s something I’ve thought about quite a bit, I’m glad you wrote this entry because I think it’s easy to see the hope one gets in writing something bigger than them, but forgetting the hope passed on through many books they’ve read.

    Maybe there is a bit of madness involved in the act, but I know it’s hope that drives me. So thank you for that reminder.

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