This week I decided to stop making excuses for myself and take five days of vacation from my job solely for the purpose of writing. "I am going to see what it's really like to be a full-time writer," I told myself. "I'm going to devote all day, for a week straight at least, to writing." The vacation was slated for right after the Thanksgiving holiday, so really it would be 10 unfettered days.
As the dedicated week approached, I said, becoming slightly afraid, "I am going to devote at least six hours, five days straight, to writing."
And now, I have arrived at the week and can say that no fewer than two—two solid hours per day will be spent on writing.
Never mind that I have two hours to spare on any given weeknight: I have no kids, no crazy work hours, absolutely no excuse. Usually that time is spent on House Hunters and YouTube videos like this one.
The point was that my job was exhausting me and simply stifling my creativity and I needed some breathing room. Room for inspiration. Right?
Anyway, I took four full days from Thanksgiving to dive into this mentally grueling goal. I mean, I don't devote two hours to anything anymore, unless maybe it's failing on macarons for a fourth time or sleeping. I am too busy losing on Scrabble, feeling bad looking at Facebook or watching aforementioned programming.
I am proud to say that today I am at three hours and about 4,500 words of writing. Except a lot of that is transcribed from previous jottings, and exactly 293 of the words are worth keeping: a little piece of silver in a vast pile of dirt.
"Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work."
It's heartening when a genius such as Chuck Close says this, though not new. It's something we know rationally, but keep forgetting, because it seems, seems so truly, that all of the masterful works we know and admire sprang fully formed from the artist, a thunderbolt of creativity. You see handwritten notecards from Nabokov or some manuscript from a Bronte in a museum and the notion is reinforced. This idea of immediate brilliance grows and becomes a chimera, chased but never captured—ultimately an excuse, in my case, for accomplishing jack squat.
The thunderbolt never came. I never found what I had to say. What I did find to say was not new or exciting or brilliant, nothing even close to Nabokov or Fitzgerald or Murakami. I had to work, revise crummy paragraphs and wade through pointless crap, and it was unpleasant. I had to dig through a bunch of dirt to get to the silver. I never found any gold except for that one thing a few months ago but it's so hard to polish and it may not even be gold but just plated.
Well no fucking duh. That's the way it works.
This truth was hammered home to me over months of writing author profiles for BarnesandNoble.com over a decade ago. Aside from freakin' Isabel Allende, who finds it just "so easy and so wonderful" to crank out a novel, most writers just work and work and work until the right words break through, and even then, they wade through rejection and revision and torment. It is not like sitting down for a 45-minute exam, writing a blue-book essay and getting an A, which is what I could usually pull off and is what I personally would prefer.
But even after that education at BarnesandNoble, writing profile after profile on hard-working authors, somehow I just didn't want to accept that a career-making piece of writing was not just going to drop in my lap overnight. Finally, about 25 or so years after thinking that maybe writing is something I would want to do, and because it's really the only thing anyone ever encouraged me to do, it's dawning on me that perhaps some serious effort is in order. Hey!
Fortunately for this weeklong project of mine, there is no shortage of work. Any number of failed or neglected projects await my attention. Sheafs of handwriting, scrawled in airports and on trains, sit unmined. Two websites (including this one) lie silent. Two novels lie unfinished. Idea file Idea file Idea file. The point, I remind myself again and again, is not to achieve fully formed brilliance. The point is the process. The point is that you do, or do not, there is no try, and for that matter, there is no almost, no draft. There is only slogging through crap and making a final version and hoping that you turn out something that someone, somewhere might like.