For four weeks I worked on a particular story. I knew who would be the main character but I didn’t know anything about her. Was she young or old? Did she have some money or no money? And then I still had to come up with a worthwhile plot. I spent one Saturday morning thinking so hard that I took a three-hour nap to recover.
When I awoke, I sat down to write. My fingers repeatedly struck the wrong keys. I stumbled over sentences when I read them aloud. For every three paragraphs I wrote, one was deleted. Simply put, my rhythm was totally off. I was writing the same way I drive a stick-shift, jolting and lurching forward without any sense of control.
After writing nineteen pages, after devoting an entire month to this particular story, I clicked save and turned my computer off. I couldn't keep working on it. I needed time away to gain perspective. Plus, I was spent. And so I told myself I could take a week off to recharge my creative juices. I could make mix-tapes, get a pedicure, build a snowman. No matter what, I was under no obligation to write.
A few days later, fearful of black ice and pending snow, I canceled my evening plans and went home. I dropped my purse on my dining room table, kicked off my shoes and plopped down on my sofa. Yarn and needles sat on my coffee table right next to a pile of newly received magazines. The Olympics played on the television. Except for all of the glorious distractions before me, the only thing I wanted to do was write.
I sat down at my desk and loaded a blank page. Barely aware of what I was doing, where I was going, my fingers danced across the keyboard. I wrote and wrote and wrote. A little shy of midnight, five hours after I started, I was done. There before me was a fourteen-page story that I absolutely adored. The main character had depth, lifting off the page. The plot was subtle but interesting, pulling the reader along without challenge. Sure, there were things to fix but in the current state the story was quite successful.
Over the next few days, I spent a lot of time in awe of how varied the writing process can be. Driving to work, on the machines at the gym, I couldn’t help but ponder this. Maybe it’s similar to finding a mate. You can’t explain chemistry but you know when it’s there. Or perhaps it’s like an Olympic athlete who’s trained her entire life. During practice she is divine but on race day she catches the edge of her ski or bobbles the landing. I stopped analyzing the writing process when I found myself comparing it to pooping, and how one day you’re constipated and the next - well, you know where I’m going.
In the end, I decided the writing process is really no different from life in general. One day the sun casts a warm yellow glow across the landscape, the sweet scent of honeysuckle fills the air. The next day you step in doggy-doo, get a flat tire and pull five gray hairs from your head as you idle at a red light. You can’t always predict what you’ll get when. But you put your head down keep on going. Because when it’s wrong, you feel like a marionette with tangled up strings. But when it’s right, when everything goes better than you could have ever imagined, it’s magical.