Agonistes

There are days this isn’t fun, the whole writing business. Days I say to myself, “You know what would be fun? ACCOUNTING. Numbers don’t break your heart. Nobody imbues them with an emotional significance above and beyond their face value. They are predictable and constant and simple. Awwww, numbers, my dearest friends!”

Then I begin to notice that I’m already imbuing them with emotional significance, and I haven’t even added a single digit yet. Apparently putting an emotional charge upon the world is what I DO.

There is nothing so simple I can’t make it complicated.

My mother once gave her French friend a can of Easy Cheese as a joke. “This is what passes for cheese in America,” she said, spraying it onto a cracker. Her French friend politely tried it, struggling not to gag, and then said in a tiny voice, “I believe I prefer… Difficult Cheese.”

That story really resonates with me. I, too, prefer Difficult Cheese, where “cheese” stands for just about anything you care to name. I am drawn to complexity; I consider it worth the struggle. I like the agon; I go looking for walls to kick down and challenges I can punch in the face. I’m a pugilist, by nature and by choice.

The life of the mind results in a shocking number of bruises, but they heal.


More ways writing is like fighting. Also: like igniting.

So today I flushed about 25 pages.

It’s not like I didn’t see this coming (see previous post), but I had some merry notion it was just the one scene and that I could leave it and Captain Editorpants would make me cut it later. But no, I realized last night that I was hating the whole book pretty hard and I needed to sort out why because I could no longer push forward.

I generally find that when I’ve been heading the wrong direction, it’s like wading deeper and deeper into quicksand, or a brambly thicket. It gets harder and harder to move forward, until I’m completely immobilized.

Now hold on! you’re saying. What about the scaffolding? The place to stand? I liked that metaphor!

Yes… that’s the trouble with metaphors. They’re apt until they aren’t. Unfortunately, in art, nothing is ever just one thing. The scenes can resemble scaffolding AND quicksand — unlike real scaffolding and quicksand, which tend to be nothing alike.

And the scaffolding still stands (haha). I don’t know if it’s like this for other writers, but sometimes I really can’t figure out the right way to go until I’ve gone the wrong way. I learned a lot about some new characters, about their home city, about their goals, assumptions, and beliefs. As frustrating as the last week has been, as heartbreaking as it is to have to throw away 6K+ words, this wasn’t a waste of time.

Writing is never wasted. I believe that with everything I have. It is an article of faith; it is the only way I get through this stuff without falling into depression or just plain quitting. That credo is the result of years of experience, getting it wrong and getting back up again.

I can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt, though. Hm. I think I wrote a post about that recently, too. October has been a rough month!

But you see, this is where the years of experience come into play. I know what happens after I prune off a big chunk of text. I get an idea that sets my head on fire. I’ve already had it, this morning while walking the dog. I know what to do, and I’m ready to get back in the ring.