Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Courage

I know you. You think I don't, but I do.

I know what you'll do today. You'll get on the computer, and see your homepage screaming BRAD AND JEN SPLIT while a tiny, 8 pt. link under it tells you that the tsunami death toll is still rising. You'll try not to let it numb you. You'll cruise some news pages, some industry sites, a couple of discussion boards. You'll snag a link or maybe the latest meme, and you'll go to post something on your weblog, because something is better than nothing. Nothing, you tell everyone, is not part of your vocabulary.

I will bet serious money that there's at least one rejection letter sitting somewhere on your desk, maybe next to the latest copy of Writer's Digest or Publishers Weekly.

Once you've burned up enough time on the net to feel guilty, you crank up Word and open the WIP file, right? You do a word count and discover you wrote a not-so-whopping total of 207 words yesterday, but today you'll hit a thousand, two thousand, ten thousand. Today you will be the best damn writer in the world, and write something amazing that will sell. Doesn't have to be a breakout bestseller, doesn't have to win awards. Your name on a publishing contract from a decent house, that's enough. That's a foot in the door. That's all you're asking.

You also know there are 200,000 others out there in As of Yet Unpublished Land, trying to pry open that bitch of a door. You're pretty sure at least half of them are better writers than you.

Never mind that. You scroll down to where you left off, refusing to back read. Although it's as tempting as an unopened 2 lb. box of Godiva, you know that back reading will ruin your momentum, which will kill your wordcount. So you stick the cursor on the page with one or two lines typed at the top, and maybe check your notes, and then start filling up that page.

Five lines. Ten. Fifteen. Some dialogue, a little color for the setting. You're using too many eye references, but you'll change them later. You have to keep moving. You have to keep writing. You are writing, and it gives the pride a mild case of edema.

See? I'm a writer. I can write.

You're on a new page now. That's 250 new words, at least. You check your wordcount and it's 195. Close enough. Time to end this scene. You want to end it with a bang, but all you get is a little fizzle. That's okay. You can toss some kerosene on the fizzle later, when you edit. Have to get a good ten pages done today. Maybe make it to the end of the chapter.

The end of the chapter isn't so far away. Right around the corner. Almost there. Just this scene.

You hit a snag, like a tire blows out while you're driving over the speed limit on the highway, right in the middle of the second page. Third paragraph of the new scene, and suddenly the cursor refuses to budge. Will. Not. Move. Most of the muscles in your neck tense as you see your characters have inexplicably been transformed from meaningful people into total baboons. You start back reading, and it's worse. It is now, in fact, so lame that Christ couldn't fix it.

The screen glares. The little fan in the tower hums. You're not writing. You're screwing it up. You're screwing it up.

You don't run from the computer, but rather that chilling, contemptuous voice inside. You drown it out with coffee or lunch or chocolate or TV. Time ticks by. This is your writing time, and you're blowing it, the clock says, but what does the clock know? The clock didn't just write a scene that would make an editor blow chunks and immediately, vengefully circulate the clock's name to have it blackballed from the industry, thereby forever ruining its chances of seeing a book with its name on the cover, did it?

The clock can go chime itself, is what the clock can do.

More guilt, the battle-weary kind, and something else, something that cannot be so easily or neatly defined, eventually drags you back to the computer. You check your homepage, and now it's shrieking BRAD AND ANGELINA PICS while the tiny link says there's another video of an American hostage, pleading for his life. You don't get numb; you are numb. But you are also valiant. You shut off the net and get back into Word. You back read, but you're hurt and valiant, and the combo allows you to be a little fairer to yourself this time.

Yes, some of it is lame, but some of it isn't.

You rewrite a little, weed out those eye references. Eviscerate the bad stuff, chammy the good stuff. It's a skimpy bandaid over the numbness and the hurt, but it holds. You write a few more lines and don't let yourself read them. The clock tells you that your writing time is almost over, so you do your backups. Before you do the last save, you check your wordcount. 243 new words. Hell with that. You type one more line that makes no sense whatsoever to round it out to 250, like forcing a gas pump handle after it auto-shuts off. You turn off the computer and go make dinner, or go to work, or go to bed.

Whenever you do get to bed, you don't go to sleep. You stare at the ceiling. You imagine the cover of your first book. How it will look, as it's going to be painted by Big Important Cover Artist. How Publishers Weekly will give you starred after starred review. How your literary agent will call to gravely inform you that your next book brought in 1.2 million at auction, and there is talk of a movie deal on the table. A Steven Spielberg deal. Oh, and John Grisham wants to do lunch.

Maybe you get up, find that rejection letter, and tear it to pieces. Maybe you read it again.

Maybe you just stay there in bed and stare at the ceiling a little longer, because in your heart you really don't want the best cover, or the starred reviews, or even Steven Spielberg directing or John Grisham sharing his risotto with you. The 1.2 mil, yeah, because you haven't had a lobotomy -- yet -- but the rest, no. What you want is to get the book published. That's all. Because if that doesn't happen, then the writing you've done daily for the last three or five or ten years of your life was for nothing.

No one knows that Nothing is the scariest word in your vocabulary.

You won't think about this tomorrow. Much. Tomorrow you'll get up, and you'll turn on the computer, and your homepage will yell something about BRAD'S ALONE TIME while the tiny print link offers info on a real tragedy. And you'll resist the numbness, and you'll look around, and you'll post to your weblog, and you'll open Word, and you'll do it all over again. Because tomorrow it may be different.

I know you're going back tomorrow and working on that manuscript. You'll go back every day. Get rejection letter after rejection letter, and still go back, every single day. I know because I did that. In my case, a paper journal instead of a weblog, newspapers instead of the internet, two kids in diapers, an IBM PS/1 with WordPerfect 2.0 and a subscription to Writer's Digest.

I know you because I was there for ten years.

I can tell you one possible future for you. That 243 words you wrote? May turn into 486 after a time. And then 972. And then 1944. The words come easier, better, faster. You'll have days when you hit three thousand. You'll have rush weeks when you never write under four thousand a day. You'll get better. Then you'll get really good. And just when you think you can't face that screen one more time, you'll get the letter, or the phone call.

Having the courage to do all of the above is what makes a writer. It made me the writer I am. It will make you the writer you will become. No one but a writer can understand this. No one but a writer can do this.

Hold onto that courage. Keep writing. Be valiant.

2 comments:

  1. Every time I read this, it kicks me in the ass to keep working.

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  2. I wish I could break that damn mirror - everytime you write about this stuff I see myself - dead on. Thanks so much.

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