When I write, I suddenly remember that my room needs to be dusted. I see the particles on my window sill, I hear them calling me, accusing me of being lazy. I am suddenly aware of my clothes everywhere. The clean and the dirty and the in-between. And that I should probably get to sorting them, because let’s face it, I’m not going to come home one day and find that my dog has so kindly decided to help out with the chores.
The priorities in my life, it seems, are mounting, and my eyes keep lifting from my computer screen, shooting disconcerting glances at pairs of shoes and socks tossed in a corner, and the despicable pile of mail that swells larger on my shelf each week.
My room is my comfort. My cocoon. It holds me like a giant pillow. No one disturbs me here, at least not directly. The walls are not sound proof (I need silence when I write) but it’s where I do my writing, usually on my bed with my back against the wall because I have no headboard (I don’t know why I have no headboard, I just don’t).
I have a small desk that I bought at a yard sale a few summers ago. The old lady’s hair was a fizzy, blonde-grey. She sat in a folding chair and smiled so jovially that you just felt drawn to oblige her. She seemed very pleased with her collection of unwanted things, among which was the desk. It might have been a school girl’s at one time (or boy’s, I suppose). Its pale yellow paint was chipping all over, revealing streaks of wood underneath, and I found the desk’s imperfections to be charming.
Now it sits in my room holding a small hill of clothes and a stack of books and papers that I should really get to sorting. It’s spotted with post-it notes and I don’t remember the last time I used it for writing.
Oh, yeah… writing. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.
Why is it that I get so paralyzed when I sit down to write sometimes? All these menial chores that sit on the back burner of life suddenly rise to eye-level when I pull up my work in progress. If only my characters would tell me how they felt instead of beating around the bush so much. I spend so much time prodding them to trust me. I feel like a shrink in a clock-ticking room: Talk to me about your childhood. Tell me your most precious memory.
I enjoy getting to know my characters, but sometimes it’s exhausting. Sometimes they’re so tight-lipped and snooty faced I wonder why I even bother. I threaten to kill them off or thrust them into tragedy, until finally they uncross their arms and agree to tell me a juicy secret, albeit reluctantly.
It’s easy coming up with story ideas. They come to me multiple times a day, hitting my brain like jolts of caffeine, making me giddy. But sometimes when I write, the white page pours over me like salt water. I wonder, is this even a good idea? Maybe I should do laundry first. I just took my dog out but maybe she needs to go out again. Do you need to go out again? Huh, girl? But my dog is napping, of course. You should really get a job, I tell her.
Sometimes when I write, the words flow through me like a waterfall, and I feel like I’m swimming, no—gliding, with so much exuberance and grace, that no one, not even my noisy neighbors, can disrupt my immaculate flow, and I feel like the writing gods have lifted me up in the palms of their hands, holding me up high, past the clouds, far above the earth, in a perfect and complete glow of illumination and transcendence. Yes!
And then I retreat into the book I’m reading and I think—how did the author do that? What an asshole. And my characters all of a sudden look like flailing fish on my page, squawking like ugly one-eyed birds, and I sulk, and wonder about my plants and the last time I watered them. They’re probably thirsty. And I’m kind of hungry, come to think of it.
There is magic to writing, but mostly hard work. You have to do it everyday, religiously, I keep hearing. I am getting better at consistency. At ignoring the pointy finger of my inner perfectionist who says (because he always has something to say): Well, this is a step up from the rubbish you wrote last week, but not by very much, I’m afraid.
I just know that I love stories, and that even though I struggle, I’ve decided to use my stubbornness for good and work hard to not give up on my characters. They need me, but I’m finding that I need them more. They are real. They dwell inside me, lost in an avalanche of words, and the only way to dig them out is to keep writing.
Or I can just go for a run. It’ll make me feel totally refreshed and ready to take on this next scene I’ve been drafting, which is going to be epic, by the way. So epic! And it’s going to look marvelous on paper. Just marvelous! And all the world will rejoice because I didn’t give up on my stories. All will be saved and all will make sense. There will finally be peace on earth.
And then I can finally get to dusting my room. It’s not going to dust itself, you know. And I would just hate for the dust bugs to grow into a monster and clog my air passages at night and choke me while I sleep. Because then how would I get my writing done? You can’t do much when you’re dead. And writing is serious business.