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January 16th, 2013


Falling in Love with an Unwritten Book

Falling in love means swooning, but also falls and hesitations. I’d forgotten the shakiness and second thoughts, being giddy one moment, then the next wishing that someone was around who could tell me if the new book I’m working on is as good as it seems one moment, or when my confidence shifts, as awful. What is going on?

Intimacy seems not so far from loneliness as I get to know these layers of stories, a process which must happen in one quiet room. Before I’m certain of whether this is flirtation or true love, it’s way too soon to introduce even a chapter to my critique group or inquisitive relatives. We have to work things out ourselves through the getting-to-know-you stage. It’s usually best to even avoid confessions over drinks. While friends may tolerate tales of flesh-and-blood romance for their drama, there’s not much to say about a new relationship with pages, especially since many of us are superstitious, perhaps another word for anxious, and don’t like to reveal details that may turn on us tomorrow. We might just grunt,  “Eh, chapter one. Erghh, chapter two,” and our friends with their own creative trials may nod and say, “I know.”

Writing a brand new novel is exciting, but when it’s not, doubts prickle my skin. I set down ideas and clipped scenes wishing for guides who could tell me if a single one is good. I try to skip past scales and just record the middle hunks of dialogue, blurry action, and a bit of fairy tale dust in the haphazard ways these come. Trying to never mind whether any of this will stay for the long haul, some mornings I manage to revel in the brand new shine of each detail. But by noon, I may find it just plain hard to pay attention to the vast unknown, where new ideas enter slowly and without signs of any kind. Are my ideas upscale, or do they belong in the bargain bin or worse?

We may yearn to spend all our time with a new beau, but this is where I have to break my human-book analogy. Spending time with a fresh off the fingertips manuscript makes the rest of the world seem so very attractive. I wish the phone would ring, consider organizing my files, and wonder if it’s time to check on the status of old work. Sometimes the last isn’t entirely procrastination. Most of us aren’t starting from a vacuum. Other manuscripts and books came before, and as they make their way into or out of the world our dismay or pleasure about this can color our feelings about the new. Counselors advise taking plenty of time between an old and  new relationship, but. I like to start a new book when the last isn’t entirely finished, winking at chapters which will be there to greet me instead of a silence between old and new. But this does mean we have to be careful that judgments on the old don’t spill over to the new.

So I’m back to asking if what I’m writing is perfect enough for me? Can it be worth spending the next year or two or three with, when I’m so riddled with doubt? Wait. Those hesitations are familiar. This is writing, something I know from every day, and not just part that’s starting out. Maybe this is a book after all.