All the help I can get


Silk’s Post #12 — Five minutes ago I suddenly realized I had to write a post for tomorrow morning. What distracted me? I am happy (oh so happy) to report that I’ve been too busy writing my book to worry about blogging.

Three-fifths of the way through our 5 Writers schedule, I think I’ve finally gotten traction on my novel. Finally.

Regular readers will have realized already that I’ve been dancing, dodging, diverting attention from the fact that I have actually written practically nothing so far. Might as well fess up to it, painful as it may be. I’m in awe of Joe and his 220+ pages. Of Helga and her progress after making major changes to her whole concept. Of Paula, labouring over her outline then surging past it into glorious prose. Of Karalee, who has been a bit quiet about her progress, but I suspect is ahead of all of us.

For me, it was ever thus. I am the world’s champion procrastinator, forever spoiled by my (far from admirable) ability to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the 11th hour. I managed to get through high school that way, and as much college as I could stand after discovering I’m allergic to academia. And I built a successful design/advertising agency that outlived most of the competition for 30 years by making sure we delivered strong creative concepts on skin-of-the-teeth deadlines. You can see I’m trying to psych myself up here, can’t you?

Because sometimes you reach into the hat and the rabbit is already long gone. All you have in your hand is a fistful of the raisin-like pellets he left behind.

This ignominious fate must be avoided!

That’s why I need All-The-Help-I-Can-Get to perform the trick of typing “The End” by February 5th. The arithmetic is tilted steeply against me. By my calculations, I now have to write something like 1,500 words every single day up to and including February 5th. Even Christmas Day. Wow.

Fortunately, I have an actual plot in my head (a big advantage over the first book I wrote, which evolved in such an organic manner that it continually threatened to turn into compost). And I have solid characters, each one with a name, a picture, a past and a future. I also have my viciously competitive instincts and my deep well of Protestant guilt to drive me on.

But most important, I have my cheering section.

I find that my cats, Zoey and Zane, are a tremendous help. They like to lie atop whatever’s littering my desk at a given moment and keep it properly anchored down. They bring a generous warmth and a patient calm into my office with them, at least once they’re asleep. I also have my patient husband, who brings me a cocktail at just the right moment and doesn’t seem to mind dining on frozen pizza at 9 pm.

I also have a shelf full of wise and inspiring books on writing, the authors seeming to speak to me from across the room like a Greek chorus. The introduction to one of my favourites, If You Want to Write,  joyously penned by Brenda Ueland in 1938 and still in print, begins with this paean by Andrei Codrescu:

There are two kinds of instructional manuals: the kind that are written by well-meaning techies who mean to make you understand how to connect all the parts to the whole; and the other kind, written by angels to instruct you in the achievement of impossible things.

Impossible, indeed. Brenda wouldn’t have thought so. Or even if she did, she wouldn’t have cared. She would have said to me (as she said to her long-ago writing classes at the Minneapolis YMCA, which were filled with ordinary people who wanted to learn to write simply because they had stories to tell):

Work freely and rollickingly as though you were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters. 

She was the ultimate cheerleader, Brenda.

But finally, and most importantly, I have you – whoever you are, reading this blog. I know I can count on my 5 devoted writing friends to read it, and this is my late-night letter to them with thanks for their constant presence. And I’m grateful for every reader who spends a bit of their valuable time with my words. You could be doing anything right now – hiking up a mountain, doing the laundry, playing Angry Birds, making love. But you’re reading what I’ve written. Thanks.

Because, let’s face it, writers want to be read. And although I’ve been slow off the mark on my novel, I’ve probably learned more about writing by contributing to this blog than I have from a conference worth of classes or a stack of good books on writing.

I’ve learned what it means to be read, and oddly enough, that changes everything.

The last word shall go to Brenda:

No writing is a waste of time – no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good.

10 thoughts on “All the help I can get

  1. Oh Silk!

    Here I am up at 2:21 am, knowing I should shut off my computer because I’m sure not ‘writing right now’ and just as I’m about to sign off a little facebook notification doo-hickey flashes across my screen to notify me about your new post!

    And I love it!

    My favourite yet!

    A small digression… while we’re on the subject, how many of you are leaving the u’s in and how many of you are leaving the ‘u’s out?

    Anyway, Bravo! Your post sparkles with wry humour and ignites my enthusiasm, (there’s an in-ee)

    And the kitty cat photos are bound to get us extra attention on facebook and perhaps a few new blog followers!

  2. Oh Paula, we have to stop meeting this way at 2:30 in the morning. It warmed my heart to see your comment … there IS friendly life out there! Thanks for the comments.

    I’ve been leaving in the “u” – so used to it now (it took me years) that I would have to stop and think every time I left it out. Easy to do a global change later in rewrite for US consumption.

    Now get some sleep!

  3. Silk, this is great news. You’ve broken that dam and the flood of words can’t be stopped now! I knew this was about to happen, because I share this peculiar trait with you: Working best under pressure. Like you, I instinctively wait for the panic to set in, for the adrenaline to start flowing. Because that’s when we are most creative. So, let the real games begin. Let it rip, Silk!

    • Thanks Helga! I’m trying to keep the momentum going. Like an economic recovery, it’s always fragile in its early stages!

  4. Funny how reminders of a needed blog post always seem to turn up just when we’re ready to turn in! It’s great to hear that you’re well into your WIP. That’s the kind of distraction writers don’t mind.

    Thanks for sharing Brenda’s “last word” — it’s a good one to keep in mind when finding words becomes a battle between the muse and the inner critic… when I sit and stare at a scene with my finger on the delete key, trying to decide if it’s all garbage. 🙂

    (And yes, you have readers here that you don’t always know about.)

    • Thanks for your comments Carol! The truth and value in Brenda Ueland’s words are certainly proven by the number of years this always-fresh book has been published … and has remained a favourite of writers everywhere!

  5. “Work freely and rollickingly as though you were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.” This is Joseph Campbell’s “follow you bliss.” I’m a cranky old fart from New Joizey, so I flip the bird at the know-it-alls, not always mentally, and sometimes publicly.

    Thank you for bringing us Brenda Ueland’s words. They lifted me up today.

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