Okay, let’s just say the writing – now that I’m back to it, post the diary transcription project – is a bit of a slog at the moment.
The cover of the latest issue of Write, the magazine of The Writers’ Union of Canada, features a map by Patrick Dias, country unnamed but obviously Land of the Writer. If you’re looking for me, I’m wandering around in Frustrating Canyons, probably on my way to Crumpled Detour.
Crumpled Detour reminds me of a character in Alice Munro’s short story, “Cortes Island,” who says:
I bought a school notebook and tried to write—did write, pages that started off authoritatively and then went dry, so that I had to tear them out and twist them up in hard punishment and put them in the garbage can… Then I bought another notebook and started the whole process once more. The same cycle—excitement and despair, excitement and despair…
I don’t much like it, actually, when writers sit around and grouse about how hard it is, seeking a kind of exclusivity through their mutual suffering and insecurities. So honestly, no sympathy necessary from non-writers, and as for writers, I know you know what I mean, no need to mention it either. There are these stages, we know this, with variations, and we have to get through them.
Still, I was surprised at my inner reaction recently when someone at the early point of a possible writing life asked for conversation/advice. I’m generally happy to provide encouragement, but behind my (hopefully) kind words I was thinking, Really? Why would you want to? Do you have to, really?
The thing is, I’d just had a terrific review of my latest book (which I need to mention, of course, though once a book is finished – maybe the truest sign it is finished, in fact – it actually seems like another person’s work), so it wasn’t for lack of affirmation. Plus, because I’ve had a bit of experience by now, I know this is par for the course. To repeat: There are these stages, with variations, and I just have to get through them.
As a beginner, I found the Frustrating Canyons much more confounding. I’d hear others say the above, but I didn’t believe it was as true for them as it was for me. And I didn’t want it that way either. I wanted it to be easier.
Which it isn’t.
Do you have to, really? Yes, I’m afraid I do.
Maybe in a couple of years I’ll be past Draft 12 in the direction of Deliverance Mountains (see map). Who knows? Here’s what novelist Richard Ford said in an interview with The Guardian last year, on looking back at 68. “Writing never came naturally and I still have to force my hand to do it…And when I finished this book [Canada] I had this thought I had never had before: maybe this wasn’t the worst thing you could have done, the worst life you could have chosen…”