I have remarked/confessed previously in this blog about my need to grapple (publicly!) with my own dark, tortured feelings regarding writing, when assailed, as I was at first, with so many other blogs possessing titles such as The Joy of the Word (and we’re not talking jesus here, people), The Ecstacy of Writing, etc., etc. Many wrote to thank me for speaking about this, kindred souls who also experience writing as an agonizing, if ultimately rewarding, creative endeavor. A good friend even gave me his copy of John McPhee’s article “Draft No. 4” from the April 29 issue of The New Yorker (which is largely wonderful, if exhaustively long, because it’s The New Yorker) in which McPhee says:
” If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that you will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you must be a writer.”
So, I am not alone!
I felt it. A community of linked creative spirits, all besieged and beleaguered by the Demon Word, by the profoundly felt need to Get It Right.
Well, I felt it for a while. At least until I started following fellow writers who were, and are, cranking out Steven King-like numbers of pages that get sent to me on a virtually daily basis, while I have heretofore been feeling pretty good about one completed page, or even one completed paragraph.
And, looking deeper into the text of my erstwhile soul brother John McPhee, I see that he was describing his experience with getting a first draft onto the page – which partly due to the enormity of the torture, he does as quickly as he possibly can. Like all those damn, I mean prolific, bloggers and writers that I am now [stuck] following.
Then, it is time for me to re-learn a lesson that I have learned over and over again. And that is – the way that I write is completely unique to me. The process is mine, just as the end result is mine. Perhaps it is because I started out my “serious” writing as a poet (an excruciatingly bad one, I must say once again) that I write everything –every first draft, every email, the article on early childhood development that I am writing today, everything – by going over every sentence, every word, again and again. I read it aloud. And then I read it aloud again. I look up an astonishing number of words in a thesaurus – not to find a fancier word, but rather a simpler one. In other words, nearly everything that McPhee describes doing in subsequent drafts, I do in my first draft. It takes a long, long time to write a page. Also, and again perhaps because I started out as a poet, I value telling a story with an utter economy of words. My second novel was narrated by a 15-year-old who is a living run-on sentence in search of a topic; yet she tells her overall story quite succinctly.
Yes, there are common, shared experiences among all creative people and their processes; and yet, we are also each unique, individual, one of a kind. My advice would be this: listen to everyone you can who may have any gem, however small, about your writing or your art. Then, find your own way.
2 Replies to “Again and Again (with apologies to Rilke)”
Go get ’em Barbara! Word by simpler word. Again and again.