There’s a much-quoted statement about the writing process: Writing is easy; you just open a vein and bleed. And it is true, there are many days where writing is hard work and painful. But that is also not the whole story. I don’t subscribe to the thought that writers or most artists are some sort of mystical creatures, but more often that not, I think that to have the vocation for writing is to count oneself among the blessed on the earth.
Having been around the writing block (and writer’s block!) a few times, I can tell you what brings the most pleasure and the most fun:
Discovering the Story
Right now, I am embarking on a new novel. It isn’t going well yet. I haven’t found the voice in which to tell it. I don’t know what my main character looks like exactly. I keep calling her by the name of my last main character. But I persist, in part, because I know how worthwhile it is, how pleasurable it is once I get into a story and the characters start doing their thing, disrupting my plans and ideas, taking on a life of their own, revealing things I am sure I myself never knew. I can’t tell you how pleasurable this is. When I get well enough into a story, my own physical limitations — sleep, using the toilet, family, food — are often annoyances. I emerge from a writing jag fairly disoriented, needing to remind myself where I am and what time of year it is.
People Getting It
The writing process is not done when the writer writes The End. Writing is a collaboration between the writer, the written word and the reader. I’m not certain a book is a book until it’s read. How amazing it is that one person can scratch symbols on a page and another can decipher them and recreate them in some even vaguely similar way. I think of how longtime readers of the Tolkien canon agreed that the films fit their collective imaginations, or how there is now a Harry Potter theme park in Florida. When the writer and reader meet in the written word, something amazing happens. In my own limited experience, I’ve loved reading aloud from my writing and sensing the audience engaging with it, hearing them hold their collective breath, laugh (hopefully at the right moments) and wipe a tear. That is a wonderful shared feeling.
Books Coming to Life
The main character of the novel I’ve just written is a soup maker. She’s a widow in her mid50s whose one constant in life is that she feeds people soup. As I write this, there’s borscht simmering on my stove– because I’m in the process of figuring out her recipes so I can share them with readers once the book comes out. My writers group’s annual Christmas feast has evolved into a Cook Like Your Characters meal, where we each bring a dish that somehow connects with the book we’ve been writing that year. Writers are always chided to show rather than tell, and doing things like this adds literal flavor and colour and smells and tastes that enrich the writing and reading process.
Watching the Amazon Rankings
I just finished reading Dave Eggers’ book The Circle, which challenges our reliance on social media, our ability and compulsion to constantly tinker with rankings and visibility. It’s a really good thing that I read this cautionary tale when I did because — if you haven’t heard already — my novel Seeker of Stars came out two days ago. And it’s available as a free download until midnight tonight (www.dccebooks.com). A friend of mine said that there’s a lot of dopamine in the addiction to refreshing the Amazon page to see how your book is ranked. I first checked yesterday afternoon and the book was #151 among all free downloadable books. By supper time, it was #125. I was in the bath when my son made me “guess where it is now?” It had jumped to #39. By this morning it was ranked at #23. The excitement is a bit like being part of an auction (only with the numbers going in the opposite direction) but really what is most satisfying in the process takes me back to my second point: that this means more people will have the opportunity to read and hopefully enjoy the book.
I think that’s why rejection is hard on us writers: because what we want is to share the things we’ve discovered and enjoyed with other people. We want others to get it and to enjoy it. And so, it might be dopamine, borscht or some other brain chemical coursing through my veins today, but that is my hope and my pleasure: that you will find enjoyment in reading my book or some good book too.