“Are you writing?” someone asks. “Oh, not really. Just the blog.” And I change the subject.
I began this blog three and a half years ago, and have posted about 90 short essays. I used to write one a week. I switched to every other week because the non-stop deadline was too much pressure. Then I switched to monthly, to make space and time for my novel.
The blog posts come easily, though I work hard on each one. When a subject occurs to me, I throw all my random thoughts onto the page. Each thought leads to another, and in a few hours I have a first draft. Then comes a bit of research, a lot of revision, and the fun of finding illustrations.
Writing the blog is satisfying. I figure out what I think. I feel no anxiety; I am completely confident that ideas will come, and that I will be pleased with the final product. I get gratifying responses on Facebook and in Comments. No one ever writes a negative comment - I suppose that people who don’t like my writing simply go away.
So when you ask me if I’m writing, why do I say “Not really”? It puzzles me. I AM writing.
It’s true I like fiction better than anything; I like a long, engrossing novel that opens up a well-inhabited world. But it’s not merely that I want to create what I love. I’ve already done that. I’m very fond of my three completed novels.
I want to be read. But the funny thing is, my blog does get read. I usually seem to have about 150 readers. In the blogosphere that’s not even peanuts; it’s more like teeny black lentils. Still, I love knowing I’m being read and appreciated. Like most of us, I want people to love me and think I’m wonderful. (Comments which say you already love me and I am wonderful will not pass muster with the comment moderator.)
So it’s not enough that I’ve written three novels, and I regularly write likeable essays. It doesn’t count. I’m afraid I also want to be validated by the Voice of the Fathers. I wish I didn’t, but my father and his ilk had very loud voices.
A Father may be a brother. My late brother Dickie, a prominent book critic, told me my first novel was a page-turner. “I mean that as a compliment,” he said, but I knew my novel was not to his very complex and elevated taste. A few years later he called me to rave delightedly and in gratifying detail about my blog. “I think you’ve found your form,” he said. Ouch.
A Father can even be a woman. Any publisher is a Father, and I’m currently courting a small publisher run by a wonderful woman. I'd cut off my pinkie to be published by that house, except that it would hurt.
I want the recognition that publication brings. Not that the world will recognize me. I have no delusions, though I have all the usual Terry Gross-Pulitzer-Major Motion Picture fantasies when I get a nibble from an agent or publisher. But I want to hear the voice of the Fathers saying, “Yes, this is worthy. You are a writer.”
Maybe I want to write novels because it is so challenging. The Fathers, as you can see from the illustration, are earnest Victorians. If it’s not hard it doesn’t count. "Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?" Maybe in heaven I’ll finish my fourth novel.
Some writers love writing the first draft and hate revising. Not me. I love revising, because it comes easily. I am confident in my editorial instincts, and very decisive. I rarely dither. But to write a first draft is to create something out of almost nothing. My novels begin with an image that floats up to me - a baby lies abandoned behind a dumpster; a woman sees a man behind her reflected in a window; a sinkhole opens suddenly under a house raised on pilings. I follow the image and years later I have a bunch of characters carrying on and creating a story.
It sounds simple, but every day of working on the first draft is like standing at the edge of a cliff and looking out into a great empty space. I throw little ideas into the darkness, hoping one will shine and cast some light. I make small desperate noises as I write a first draft. Worse, I often fall asleep.
Still, even though it’s excruciating, it’s what I want to do. I hoped that if I dug around in my psyche to find the root of this foolishness, I could pull it up and be done with it. But this attempt at writing therapy hasn’t succeeded. Even as I work on this post, I decide I’ll finish this, and the second one about Argentina, and the one about the HOME Van. I’ll get them all into the queue for posting and I won’t have another one due till the beginning of May. Then I can go back to my real writing, the writing that counts.
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NEXT POST: MAY 8