I’m in that place again.
Knee-deep, waist-deep, neck-deep in the writing process, working on the manuscript for a new book, smack dab in the hardest part — the part where it feels like there’s nothing there, and like nothing will ever be there, that it’s a big gaping void, an unfillable hole, blank white pieces of paper that will refuse to be productively written upon no matter what I do.
Stephen King says writing stories is less like building something out of wood, and more like unearthing an already-existing buried artifact, with pick, shovel and whisk broom.
I say, it’s hard to know when to use the pick, and when the whisk. The ideas can be buried deep and yield to daylight only with serious muscle — but then sometimes they are lying just fragile inches below the surface, and a careless shovel-thrust will break them irretrievably.
Pablo Casals once said playing the cello is like chopping down a tree with one hand, and threading a needle with the other.
Sometimes writing is like that, too.
Maybe I’m using the pick-axe on the tree. Or the needle and thread on the buried bones. In any case, whatever I’m doing, it has that frustratingly futile feel — phrases and words that one hopes will be birds taking to wing, but turn out to be mosquitoes buzzing in one’s ear. Swat.
Oh, there are some good ideas there. Bits and pieces of good narrative, dialog that could work. But it feels like a house without a frame, skin with no bones, passages that elaborate upon a point without really knowing what that point is. Wheels turning, but no traction, no clear direction: a car up on the lift, all rev and no go.
Of course, I know this isn’t true.
I know there is something in here, some clear destination, even if it is so far clear only to itself, and not yet to me. But I know this only from past experience, from the faith that what has worked before will work again. So I keep telling myself, “The words are coming, the words are coming, the right ideas are coming, really they are…”
I hear the little boy in my own voice piping up from my mind’s back seat: “Are we there yet, Dad? Whenner we gonna BE there? I hafta pee!”
With finite patience (yes, finite, not infinite), I call back quietly over my shoulder. “Soon. We’ll be there soon.”
And keep driving.