Periscope Depth

there's something in my head, but it's not me

In light of considering the Chicago move*, I’ve thought a lot about What I Want and What I Need To Get There. What I want is to write. More than anything. I have this vague dream of earning enough as a writer to support myself, but that could take years. And even hitting that goal won’t be a resting place. However, if I continue to dedicate myself to the practice of writing – generating new material, editing the old, contacting agents and editors and other writers – then I’m living that goal. Every day that I write, I’m a writer; every day that I don’t, I’m either earning an income or fooling myself.

What do I need to get there? Practice, for one thing. Networks. A word processor. A job that puts food in my stomach and gives me health insurance. But if this past Monday taught me anything, I definitely need space.

Working on a short story – a trivial short story, some half-imagined nothing, something I fully intend to throw away once I’m finished – I hit a patch. My feet stuck and wouldn’t move forward. Swearing, I closed the file, rummaged through my desk and found the blue ideas notebook. Every notebook in the world I devote to more than one purpose, or discard after I’ve only filled half of it. This one sticks with me, though. It’s got my notes from the Muse and the Marketplace conference, novel outlines, short story ideas, snippets of dialogue. This is my lifeline.

I flip one page after the next. Nothing grabs me.

I bolt a shot of whiskey, wash my hands and take my contacts out. Some nights it just flows, but tonight it’s mud in my gears, ash in the gas tank. I know exactly why: because I have an endpoint in sight but no idea how to get there. I’m going to throw this story out anyway. Why labor over it? There’s that little bit from a few years ago, what was it, three thousand words? Not even. You’ve become a much better writer since then. Dig that one out; revise it.

No.

Well, take a break from this one. You said yourself you haven’t structured it enough. Put an outline together. Something will come to you.

Not that, either.

You just want to suffer, then? Sit and stare at a blinking cursor? What good’s that going to do you?

Cursing, I go back to the computer. I sit down. I wait. The conversation that I stopped in the middle of – a guy and a girl, on a first date – starts to flow. Maybe not as smoothly as the genius stylist I envision myself to be could manage. But it makes sense. It’s what these people would say. I’ll let it go until it gets where I need it for the story to continue.

Writing doesn’t always demand this much of me; in fact, it hasn’t been this hard in a while. I can normally write close to two thousand words in an hour, instead of barely half that tonight. But when it gets hard, I need to endure that quiet torture for as long as it takes until I can start writing again. I can’t walk away from it. Less than perfect, that’s fine; no one ever lives up to the expectations in my head anyway. But not walking away defeated.

And that’s why I live in a studio in Cambridge.

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* I’m not moving to Chicago. Sorry.

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