There! Doesn’t that headline sound like the beginning of a condescending rant about Republicans?
(Republican friends: Please don’t take offense. Just substitute the word “Democrats” and keep reading.)
But I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about the writing process.
I love days when I can sit down and write. I sit at my computer, I start writing, hours pass, and I have a bunch of new pages. Then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. i can blow the factory whistle, stop work, head home (even if “home” just means leaving my study for the living room), and do something completely unrelated with a light heart.
But then there are days — weeks — where instead I have to think.
Maybe I’ve written a character into a corner and have no idea how to get her out. Maybe I have to re-conceptualize an entire character. Research the religion or medical condition or historical background of a character. Figure out a new sub-plot. Figure out the entire main plot!
This is different from what people talk about as “writer’s block.” When I think of writer’s block, I picture sitting down and having no ideas, nothing to say. Or paralyzing oneself with fear. It’s a mind-numbing fog.
What I’m talking about is not a fog. It’s having some very specific problems with a manuscript that need to be thought through or, occasionally, researched. But the thinking does not happen in a controlled, manageable, linear fashion. I wish it were like writing a news story or a fundraising letter, where I could say, “Okay, I’m going to sit down at 2 p.m. and have this done by 5 p.m.” But it’s not.
Instead, my mind wanders. I play Facebook Scrabble. I move the laundry. I write out page after page of notes and outlines that look organized but basically just re-state the problem. Even if I focus on trying to find the answer, it doesn’t come.
And I want to write! I don’t want to sit around thinking. I want motion, action, progress. I want to look at my computer and see “1,269 words” at the bottom of that Microsoft Word window. I feel like someone in the driver’s seat, bags are packed and loaded in the trunk, key in the ignition, the open road stretching ahead, and the damn car isn’t moving.
I want to have everything figured out so I can blast forward putting it on paper. After all, this process is all about the writing, right? We call ourselves “writers.” We go to “writers’ retreats” and “writers” conferences.” We buy books on writing and join writing groups.
Nobody says “I’m joining a thinking group.”
But maybe we should.
My rational self — the self that is not tearing its hair out and wanting to blast forward — knows that thinking is an essential part of this process. That’s especially true at the stage I’m at with this current novel — first draft just finished, ready to start revising and improving.
I need to think about what works and what doesn’t work, what I want to add, and where I want to take this manuscript. That’s just as important as getting all those pages of the first draft down on paper. And it doesn’t happen on command or on schedule. Maybe for some people it does, but not me.
I need to calm down and give it time.
That’s my rational self talking. But what I really want is: motion, action, progress.