It feels awful.
I come here almost every day and write on this weblog. In two and a half years -- approximately 900 days -- I've written almost 2200 posts. I don't know if I write 1000 words a day on here but I wouldn't be surprised if I do. If I don't, I could. And don't forget the supersecret blog I have that I write on almost daily, too. I have a lot to say. I wake up and this is what I want to sit down and do. It's the end of the day and I want to take off my boots and read my mail but instead I'm sitting down here. I want to tell you things. I want to tell you about the full moon I saw on my drive home. It was covered by a very thin layer of icy clouds and so it glowed like a halo and there was a remarkable rainbow circle around it, and then another halo and another rainbow rim. It was like some kind of funky glowing moon frisbee, with the real moon glowing bright and small in the center. I see these things and I want to catch them, and tell you about them. It's something I just love about being in this world. I love the sights, the smells, the thoughts. And I love sharing them with you.
With you. Sometimes "you" just means me. I'm trying to remember something, or to give myself a pointer to come back to later, and I don't particularly care whether anybody else is interested. Sometimes it's a generic you, it's the world. Sometimes it's a particular you, someone I am thinking about. Sometimes it's a particular you I know isn't reading, and sometimes it's a particular you I know is. Sometimes it's a particular you I know only because you read -- someone I've come to "know" through your comments or your emails. Knowing you're out there, and you're curious, and you'd like to hear about the moon I saw or will chime in with your own thoughts about low energy light bulbs or whatever it is, that's really nice for me. I like sharing my world with you. I come back almost every day with new things I want to tell you. I can't imagine that impulse going away.
And I never have writer's block. Why would I? I'm just telling you what I saw, how I felt, what I thought, what I wondered, what it smelled like, what it made me remember. There are no rules. There's no way to do it wrong. Of course there is, and of course I have rules. And of course I feel good when I think I've said something well, or given you just the glimpse I want, or conveyed a particular mood. But there's no pressure here, for any one post to perform a particular function, to drive home a certain objective. I just write, and tell you what I want to tell you.
But fiction. Oh, fiction is different.
Do you know what I ate while writing (or not writing) this story? I ate a large order of french fries. I ate half a box of Life cereal, plain, out of the box. I ate seven squares of Special Dark chocolate. I ate hot cocoa and popcorn and all the celery that was in the fridge. I ate two powerbars. I drank a latte, which I somehow forgot contained espresso. I ate pizza. I ate leftover Lo Mein for breakfast, and even though I was stuffed I heated up the wontons and ate those, too. This is not my usual diet.
And I just hated everything I wrote. I avoided writing and I got furious at myself and I kept setting the kitchen timer and creating elaborate rewards and punishments and instead I edited other people's writing and responded to emails and drafted committee notes for an organization I belong to and usually ignore. I didn't leave myself enough time and then I wrote badly, and rushed, and I was furious at myself for getting myself into the mess. And I wrote long, unbalanced scenes, with too much detail in places that don't matter and not enough detail in the places that do. And the characters didn't cooperate with me, rushing through the living room wearing a wetsuit and not having a proper conversation with the woman on the couch or the man standing in the doorway. It was a real mess. And while printing it out and making copies to bring to class I read it and thought that nobody has ever written anything worse. And the french fries in my stomach weighed me down and I could feel my jeans tight against my belly and I slunk off to class, my head full of the scenes I will cut when I start to revise the story, the places I need to add detail. We don't even smell the beach at the end, for heaven's sake. How can we not smell it? If we don't smell it, how do we believe anything. And we need to talk about his feet, and the sand. And don't even get me started on Lorraine, how much work we need to do on her. And the first three pages can just go. Just rip them right off. It's full of red pen markings before I even pull it out of my backpack to pass it in.
And then we have class and we are reading John Cheever, who is impossibly good. And James Baldwin. I want to ask whether we can read their first drafts. Did these stories spring to life so fully formed? How did the authors move their characters from one scene to the next so deftly? How do they jump back and forth in time, between exposition and scene? I think of the awkward places, my character standing in the doorway, how hard it is for me to get him out to the beach. How hard it was to get him from the car to the house. (Getting him into the car was no problem, because he was a little bit drunk....)
The professor tells us to hand in our stories and asks us to write her a note on the back page, telling her what we feel good about and what we still have to work on. Mine is a whine. "Why do I have to start with something good? All I can see are the things that I still have to work on." I do figure out that I think I like the idea, the action, the sequence of scenes and the people in them. I just don't like any of the writing, or the transitions, or the characters, particularly. I write and write in my green pen what I plan to work on.
But then class is over and I reread my story and you know what? It's not that bad, maybe. I need to fix all of those places and of course you'll need to smell the beach and we can definitely get rid of a whole hunk of the beginning but at least it's written. And you know, that feels pretty good.