Friday, July 29, 2011

He’s a drugstore truck-drivin’ man

First peppers

Another character wrapped up today. Sorry to keep talking about it. I’m just rather overwhelmed with success. I know it’s boring to everyone except me, but I can’t believe that I could actually be finished with a halfway-decent manuscript tomorrow. I’ve been spending three hours at it a day this week rather than two, and it’s amazing how much more exhausted I am after three hours of work.

It’s odd to me how writing is the thing I’ve always wanted to do and it’s still the thing I have the hardest thing talking about. I’m happy writing blog posts about moose in the garden or sailing on a beam reach or hiking 23 miles in a day, but actually writing about the thing that means the most to me? It’s excruciating. I’m afraid that someone will just come out and say: you suck. There’s no hope. Give up now and quit embarrassing yourself.

There’s this crazy balance you have to do as an artist, which is, after all, what I’m trying to be. I have to believe, simultaneously, that what I’m doing is the worst thing ever and the best thing ever. Unless I believe it’s the worst, I won’t keep working at it, making it better. And unless I believe it’s the best, I won’t believe that the excruciating work is worth doing at all. It’s just too hard.

Forgive me. Of course I am quite convinced that what I’m doing is not close to the best, or even publishable at this point. But if I don’t think there’s a possibility that what I’m doing is good, then I won’t be able to keep the faith. I have to keep the faith. I’m not even sure why, but I do.

4 comments:

wfrenn said...

Melissa,
"Easy writing makes hard reading; hard writing makes easy reading." Like anything else, if you practice it enough, you get stronger at it. What takes discipline at first, gradually, if you persevere, becomes more a habit, and does not seem so hard to sit down to. Eventually, your story, plot, characters, scenes, take on a like of there own, winged by the vectors of your imagination. I would not self-talk about "the worst thing ever" to get myself to improve my prose. I would simply let it lie until it is almost someone else;s work, then read it as an editor for rhythm, flow, coherence, plausibility, and interest value. I can improve on something I have written in the tenth draft. The changes suggest themselves. I am reading No Country for Old Men at the moment, a lean, economically written piece. You can see the add-ons he made to cover the spine and skeleton of the plot, with seer descriptions of desert, wind, heat, and corner-of-your-eye observations. They weave in seamlessly, but I am sure they were added, once the burden of the main story was on paper.
I wish you the best of luck. You are already better on paper than you were three years ago.
Keep the faith!

The Capt'n

wfrenn said...

P.S. Have you read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet?

A LIttle Birdy said...

Congratulations on your success! I am always cheering for you, even when you don't hear from me.

Migrating robin

Melissa said...

Thanks so much to both of you. I'm reminded of one of my favorite poems, by WB Yeats, which I memorized during college:

"A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught."

The curse of a writer. But thanks for your continued encouragement, and I'm so glad that you believe my writing is actually improving over the years. I remember when we used to write a column together, Robin--those were the days!