Upheavals, interruptions, discombobulations. These eventually morph into the norm, and the few quiet moments in the day severely mess with their flow. Then, when you think it is all settled, and you get absolutely nothing done on the writing side, there is a quiet realisation – it doesn’t quite make it to an epiphany – namely that they have always been there, those upheavals and interruptions. It is only now that you have become sensitive to them, because the writing is not going as well as it used to.
My approach to writing has changed, and this has made it more of a challenge to write. What do I mean by approach, though? I’m not talking about stalking the desk rather than marching up to it, so much, although that could be a consequence. Avoiding the desk altogether, more like. But, I’m more suggesting that I cannot comfortably sit down and just write anything anymore. It used to be quite easy to get a thousand words down in a writing session, but eventually I started feeling dissatisfied with the result. Or, in a more complicated way, it was only supposed to be the warm-up to the real writing. I was supposed to follow up this enthusiastic burst of writing with actual writing. By which I think I mean, fiction. Scenes from the novel, for instance, or at least backstories. What really happened was that I wrote the warm-up session – most often a journal entry – and then got up. Left the desk, the study, the planetary system. Done. So, for almost a year I wrote quite a few words, a considerable number of journal entries, but very little fiction. I even did some real work on the novel. I call it planning, but of course it isn’t really planning, because there are no goals involved, no deadlines. I’m not about to throw all that out, but I do know now that by writing, I mean writing fiction. And this is the difficult part.
Why? Why is it so difficult? First, we have to clear up what I mean by fiction, I suppose. It’s the stuff that makes up the story. All of it. The made up stuff that doesn’t exist and never has. Nothing happened, and yet I will spend a whole lot of energy and time working on it. I will make up everything. That is the fiction. Not the lie, the fiction. The lie is that I will do it, but the fiction is what I make up, what I suck out of my thumb. The fiction part is not so difficult, either. Writing the fiction in a way that I find satisfying is the difficult part. All obvious stuff, but I need to set it out. It has been my insight over the last few weeks. A creeping realisation. So when I say obvious I obviously mean to anyone who has attempted to write fiction other than me. Or, it is obvious to me now. It is something new I have come to learn, and I wish I could’ve learned this earlier. Writing fiction is fiendishly difficult, and the circling of the desk is a consequence of it. Cruising the thermals at a comfortable altitude, looking for a tasty carcass. Is the norm.
It takes courage to sit down at the desk rather than to circle it at this height. It takes courage to fill that blank page with fiction, because look at it. It used to be a beautiful blank page. Look at what you’ve done to it.
I also had a less clear, less thought out, idea about the writing process which is related. To the blank page fear, but also to the writing process itself. It has to do with the infinite possibilities of that blank page. Each sentence written on it reduces the number of possibilities. It is not possible, nor desired, to capture everything in a scene, but in a way every bit you set down on the page drastically reduces the number of other bits that you can set down, for instance. Each sentence is the result of a choice made among a number of possible other sentences, but it also reduces the number of possible follow up sentences. With every sentence the writer has to run through a telephone directory of possibilities, knowing that the sentence will force them into a direction, a channel which cannot simply be jumped at some later point. Changing channel most often means rewriting the whole damn thing. All those decisions take their toll on the brain. That channel is incredibly important. A ‘flow’ session happens, I’d wager, when the channel has been created and the sentences are just pouring out onto the page. It is incredibly satisfying, but. There is always this niggly feeling that all this ‘flow’ is happening in a channel that will have to be rejected again later, because it is flowing in a direction that was never going to work.
And this doesn’t even touch on the quality of writing, the taste and mouthfeel of every sentence.
I realise that this is still circling the desk, still riding the thermals, instead of getting down to the carcass and getting bloody. I really need to do something about these metaphors.