Wednesday, November 26, 2008

writing in November

The dark days of November are here - snow and sleet with an occasional glimmer of sun luring me outside to be sure it's real. And yet despite the cold and dark, on this terrible day in the world, with bombing massacres in Mumbai and the world's finances exploding too, I am profoundly happy just to have a roof and a furnace and food in my fridge. How lucky we are to live in a relatively safe and stable country. How lucky I am to have a job that won't vanish in a recession. I'm talking about teaching, of course; writing has never had much to do with the finances of the real world. (See last post re frugalista.)

I have been having a tough go of my writing job, however, this last while. For so many years I was the writer of a very long book and of very short essays. Now, trying to do something in between - either longer essays or a shorter book - I keep running out of steam, or charging down dead ends. I pick a good topic and then throw the doors open to include every aspect, every event, the entire world view of every character, with the result that the piece becomes overloaded and waterlogged and drowns in its own good intentions. As I bemoaned all this yesterday to my friend Bruce, he said, "You need to take your own course!" 

And he's right. I glibly tell others, "Less is more," "Show don't tell," "Paint one picture with depth," but it's not so easy to do these things myself. Which is why all writers need editors, and also, if possible, writing groups or coaches or regular readers, to help them see what they simply can't, so close to the work. 

I talked about this with Wayson, how I rush into things and swamp the work, and told him I'd written the word "Slow" in big letters by my desk. He said, "No, not 'slow', that's the wrong word. The word is 'essential.'" So yes, "essential" is written there now. My writer friend Patsy, with whom I also regularly discuss these creative dilemmas, sent me this quote recently, which has joined the others on my study wall: 

"Write a little every day, without hope, without despair."
Isak Dinesen.

Gotcha, Isak.  Here goes: a topic that matters deeply, explored as deeply as I can, but just one aspect, one time, one event. Let's see if little miss Letmetellyoueverything can manage to tell only the essential. Slowly. Stay tuned.


No comments:

Post a Comment