Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Low-Hanging Fruit

A student sent me this quote from Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream:

"When I've finished a work, and some time passes, and I'm working up to something new, I feel that I am utterly wasting my life. I do trivial, ghastly, quotidian stuff; I hate myself; I complain about myself to my wife, and that hatred daily increases. Finally she says to me, 'Honey, it's OK, you've now reached total self-loathing; you're about to start writing.' She's always right. Soon thereafter, the door opens up to my unconscious, to my new work, and I leap in. And then I write every day and I am scared every day and I am happy every day."

This is apt for me right now. At least the first half, I wouldn't know anything about the second. The book I've spent all year complaining about is done, I've turned in the copyedits, I'm waiting to see the final draft of the cover and dipping my toe into the ocean of pre-publication panic. I am done. I am writing--absolutely nothing.

Some people write because they love writing. Some write because they love having written. I think I write mostly to keep the horrible feeling of not-writing away. It's what I'm for, simply--and when not doing it, I am for nothing but self-pity, Top Chef, and the terrible realization that I have no actual job qualifications. That book you're working on, that story you're telling yourself a little more every day, is the stuff that propels you forward. Storytelling is the driving force of life. And of course there's always the panic that you'll never have an idea again--this is it, the well is dry. I have friends who have ideas popping up everywhere, and all they have to do is walk out into their lush gardens and pick whichever one looks the juiciest. I'm the next-door neighbor whose backyard is a thicket of weeds and cracked dry soil and malevolent squirrels. Every once in a great while a tiny green shoot of something pops up tentatively, valiantly photosynthesizes, then thinks Aw, screw this! and gives itself to the boll weevils.

This happens every time, and you'd think I'd learn after awhile and chill a bit. But, I ask you, if we go around learning from past experience all the time, how would we be miserable? I'll be like this until something happens, some brave little shoot survives the parched soil, soul-sucking pestilence, and periodic hailstorms of the quotidian.

Theoretically, it could happen, right?


  1. I write so I don't feel guilty about not having written. Well, not too guilty anyway, seeing as I'm on here instead of writing.

    I've been wanting to write a story about the Squirrelpocalypse and your picture is perfect for the job. Still looking for a narrative tho.

  2. I'm TRYING to embrace the panic, to make friends with my malevolent squirrels. But they keep throwing the peanuts right back at me, the mangy bastards.