The book. The book, the book, the book. It’s all I think about these days. I almost can’t wait for the commute to and from work, just to have the uninterrupted time and headspace. (Which is a little scary, considering I’m supposed to be driving. I won’t admit how many times I’ve blown right past my freeway exit because of wool gathering.) So, I spend every day at work, buying books written by other people, wishing I could be home, writing my own. And all the while, the creative pots are bubbling away on the backburner: Plot ideas are at a nice, low simmer, character dialogue is as fresh and al dente as it gets, and brilliant themes erupt in small clouds of delicious steam.
Then a funny thing happens. I manage to carve out some writing time, I get my trusty notebook and V5 pen, and I finally sit down to write … and suddenly I’m in creative purgatory. The brilliant ideas? They turn into mush on the page. The bon mots I thought so clever on that morning commute? Overcooked words, as limp and boring as ruined spaghetti with the blandest of sauces. This happens all too frequently – at the beginning of just about every writing session – and every time I experience it, I think of the lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men“:
…Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow…
It’s as though I intimately know the “soul” of the work – I feel it deeply – but something always comes between the internal knowing and the external expression of it. The end result never matches what I have in my head, never comes even close to how fantastical and wonderful it is in my imagination. The self-defeating temptation here, of course, is to give in to that sense of expressive failure and say, “Well, if I can’t convey it perfectly, I won’t convey it at all” and so write nothing. Difficult as it is to drum up and apply, the only real antidote to this is discipline. Well, that and faith. Write it and worry about the rest of it later. Go through the motions and the motives will follow. And for inspiration to do just that, I turn away from Mr. Eliot and seek out the kindlier advice of Annie Dillard as expressed in The Writing Life:
Another luxury for an idle imagination is the writer’s feeling about the work. There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.
Thank you, Ms. Dillard. Repel, ignore, or kill the mosquitoes, but don’t indulge them. Duly noted.