Refine. Hone. Distill. The self is a text, too.
Recently, I had a conversation with my husband inspired by an episode of The Big Bang Theory about the difference between theorists and engineers (or the “thinkers and dreamers” versus the “doers and makers”) and the creativity and originality required by both groups. Out of that conversation came my realization that I’ve always seen myself as the mechanic, the engineer, assisting with the production of the dreamers’ concepts.
A crisis of topic has always been my problem when it comes to “dreaming” up anything on my own. But now, I’ve had my first idea. My first anything of any consequence that could possibly become something more. And I’m facing it down with decades spent loving language, emulating authors, respecting text and mechanics (and sometimes defying them), and situating myself firmly as a reader with the novelist safely on a pedestal.
I’m finding it to be the most difficult writing endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. Plus, what if it’s not any good? Or never goes anywhere?
Also, if you’re a first-time, unpublished writer, don’t try Googling anything about it. Sometimes I don’t appreciate this interconnected world of information for its sheer ability to overwhelm into inaction. Blogs and tips and whole sites dedicated to what to do, what not to do, how to get started and how to keep going—and they disagree a lot, as well. If this were my adolescence in the ’90s, I could do some research at the library, get a self-help book and find out a little bit about publishing, and then not feel guilty for writing with my gut (which is pretty much exactly what I’m doing anyway). Why am I not writing when my options were pen and paper, or a typewriter? And while I firmly believe publishing needs to innovate itself with the digitization of the times, and explore all possibilities for keeping traditions of storytelling and information-sharing alive, I do it a bit begrudgingly—it makes all of this a lot more complicated.
But I do have the words, advice, and examples of writers whose work is important to me and integral to what I’m doing, like Mark Danielewski in a recent Q&A:
“We are allways [sic] in our work. There’s no way around that one. But there is a way around writer’s block: it’s a myth, it doesn’t exist, it’s the ghost in the wind, the machine in the ghost. Ignore it and write. The same word. A non-word. Words and words. Everyday. They will eventually tell you which ones to keep. Respect the page. Respect that what you have to say about what’s on the page matters little to what the page will finally have to say is of the page. About you. About us. And yes, you guessed it, the page is the abyss. There is no page.”
“The novel’s spirit is the spirit of complexity. Every novel says to the reader: ‘Things are not as you think.’ That is the novel’s external truth, but it grows steadily harder to hear amid the din of easy, quick answers that come faster than the question and block it off … All novels, of every age, are concerned with the enigma of the self. As soon as you create an imaginary being, a character, you are automatically confronted by the question: What is the self? How can the self be grasped?” [From The Art of the Novel]
And Rainer Maria Rilke:
“You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all — ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.” [From Letters to a Young Poet]
And Annie Dillard:
“Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” [From Pilgrim at Tinker Creek]
(Plus the entirety of Dillard’s The Writing Life.)
And really anything Mina Loy has ever written, but that’s another blog for another day.