19 October 2010

A messy post about writing (messily)

I hate to admit it, but that post about your metaphor for writing keeps echoing through my head, and the quotation in my last post set off another round of reverb.

Just on the literal level, some of the piles of paper I have for writing projects are at least three inches thick. Hanging them on the wall would probably cause structural damage. And as for a cover sheet listing what needs to be done to finish them, jumping Jehosaphat, if I were capable of making that list I wouldn't have any trouble finishing the project, whether or not I actually wrote the list down. It may be a character flaw or a sign of a deeply disorganized mind (but wait, I thought that was a marker of creativity), or it might be due to the way I work or the type of work I do.

(Sir John says I'm more like a experimental scientist, where the "list" goes, "Shoot some electrons at some aluminum atoms and see what happens. Whoops, that wasn't what we were expecting. Figure out what to try next.")

One of my projects needs me to look up some words in the MED, the OED, and the LALME; that's clear-cut enough. But what comes next depends on what I find. It's probably something like "stare at results and see if they shift into a meaningful pattern." It might be "find some more reference works to fine-tune this." It might be . . . well, look, I see no point in developing a flow chart of all the possibilities I might pursue; even I can see that that is prime work-avoidance activity.

Moving on to further reactions . . . .

"'Joyful blessing' my ass," I said, and started thinking hateful thoughts about my piled-up projects. Actually, whether it's down to temperament or religious attitude, I don't think in terms of blessings. Last night, in fact, images of wilderness and deserts sprang to mind, with me hacking away at underbrush that chokes my path again as soon as it's cleared, or slogging away hopelessly towards an oasis that might well be a mirage. Why do I do this?

How can I not?

And then I thought: my writing and I are like one of those ill-assorted couples that make onlookers wonder how they ever got together, and what keeps them together. They bicker. They insult each other. At least one fantasizes about leaving the other. But if an outsider suggests actually leaving, the response is, "Oh, no, Spouse couldn't manage without me. And . . . you know . . . I'm not sure I could manage without Spouse."

My writing makes me feel awful, sometimes (it tells me I'm not smart enough, not hard-working enough, not dedicated enough). I fear it will leave me for someone younger, smarter, fitter, more energetic, more organized. I get frustrated with it. It goes slowly. It's messy, baggy, a pain in the ass. But give it up? No way. It gives meaning to my life. I wish I had more time for it. Maybe I should take it on vacation (writing retreat) and show it a good time. Of course it would probably mean more if I just did my share around the desk every day, instead of trying to make up for neglect with new pens and notebooks and things. But my writing is part of me. We don't have to be nice to each other. It knows how I feel.

And certainly I like it too much to nail it to the wall.

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