I learned something again yesterday, something I have learned before, lots of times. I pushed and pushed against the story, thinking there was no story, thinking I had no way of telling it, writing ugh, and shit, and yuck, day after day, ready to give up, and then yesterday, with a sudden click, the door swung wide open, and I had the structure I was looking for. What did I learn? This is how it goes, you think you don’t have it, and then you do. The trick is staying with the story when you don’t have it, tolerating the frustration and uncertainty. It was funny to look back over my notes, as I pulled the important parts out to make my draft—how many completely wrong starts I had, how much testing, mistakes. The parts I needed were clear, bright on the page like a secret message, revealed by the magic light.
We had our writing group last night. Kate talked about the ways she avoids writing. I was surprised, having imagined that all her happiness comes from writing, all the time. She described being happy in stolen moments– on a subway, at some street corner where she grabs a scrap of paper from her pocket and writes down a line of dialogue, but then said that whenever she sits down at the computer to “write” she finds herself squirming and looking for ways to dodge it, so she almost never sits down to “write” at all.
I am beginning to learn that I have to write, whether I want to or not, whether I am talented and deserving, whether, on that particular day, I have anything to say. I write so that I become too bored by writing to be intimidated by it. I write so that I stop being scared by the boredom, and the frustration, and the sense of failure. I write to learn how to ignore those feelings, and keep digging.
Speaking of which, I bet people who dig for gold don’t expect to enjoy it. You just get your pick and your sleeping bag and scramble, collecting tricks from the people who got out there before you. You don’t feel like a failure if you aren’t having fun, if you find it hard– in fact, you feel victorious if you keep at it longer than you think you can stomach, you consider it a victory to build strength and stamina, to live on little water and less hope. If there’s any satisfaction, it must come from the discipline of trying, showing up day after day.
See if you can write in spite of the voices. See if you can outlast those voices, so that they go home, finally sick of you, and leave you alone, still at the table, writing.