One of the things I love most about writing is the way it forces me to slow down. I learnt early that achievement was linked to speed and it’s taking me a long time to unlearn it. Quickly working through tasks on a list makes me feel efficient and there are times when that sort of efficiency is necessary. But, for the big things in life, say, the ability to live with stillness and be content in it, rushing doesn’t get me anywhere.
When I write, I am forced to focus on details. I have to watch for cliches and generalities. It sounds okay for a character to say someone is ‘like a fish out of water’, it’s not okay for me to lazily describe a person like that. Gerard de Nerval, a French poet, is attributed with the words, “The first man who compared a woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile.” (1) This is rather harsh, nonetheless, as George Orwell advised, it is best not to ‘use a metaphor, simile or figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print’. (2) Sometimes, I don’t notice clichés in my drafts until the third or fourth – or twentieth – read-through, and then, it takes time and patience for me to get down to the essence of what I’m actually trying to say. But, I’m sure it’s good for my soul!
When I write, I have to think about setting. What is the weather like? What plants, if any, would be found in the environment my characters are in and how do those plants look and smell – and sometimes even taste and feel and sound! What words work best to describe this? What details most stand out in the landscape my characters are functioning in? And last, but almost most importantly, how much of any of this would my character notice? Especially as I am usually writing from a first person, adolescent, point of view.
When I write, I must accept that good work is rarely completed quickly. That there is a power in taking one’s time to think and feel. That while I crave the triumph of writing the last scene, doing the last edit, maybe getting a publishing deal and selling the first book to someone I don’t know, I have to remind myself that much of the beauty of life lies in the process, in the steps, in the effort and in the moments when the words fall into place. If I could waltz around selling books and remember nothing about the pain of writing them, or never be able to write another line, would I truly choose that? The joy is in the work. Even though it’s hard to remember that sometimes!
So, as I continue to wait for news on my second and third manuscripts, I plough on with my fourth manuscript and remind myself of all of this. I’m at a bottleneck in the writing process that is completely out of my hands and the only thing to do is to accept it and get on with the work. I understand why I must wait. I can even sometimes persuade myself that waiting is good for me! Admittedly, I do, occasionally, fling myself around declaiming loudly, “Oh for God’s sake!” I find I generally feel better afterwards, and can healthily reconnect to the idea that this writing lark requires committing for the long term.
If you too are out there, training for the day when Waiting becomes an Olympic sport, you have my sympathy. And my encouragement. Maybe it’s time to pick up that piece you haven’t been able to get quite right. Or to lose yourself in a new, exciting project. Or just to stop and look at the plants around you, layering up knowledge that may pour onto the page at a later date. I tell myself all these things as I trot around in limbo and it does make the waiting more bearable. But, may I just say, “Oh for God’s sake!” one more time before you leave?!