Back to the Machete

August 3, 2012

I’m writing a book. Have been for weeks.

Up until today, it’s felt like I was wielding a machete, hacking my way through gigantic hostile jungle plants as I made my way deeper and deeper into a dark, unknown forest.

I’ve had the strong sense that I’m headed somewhere, but it’s more a matter of faith than knowledge. I think I’m headed in the right direction. But there is no sensory feedback to corroborate that sense.

In fact, the further I hack my way in, the darker it gets, the deeper, and the more I have to hang onto the Ariadne-thread of faith and the blind conviction that, because I’ve done this before and it’s worked, surely to God it’ll work again this time. At least I hope so.

Until today.

Today I swung the mental machete for hours, sitting at my desk, pacing my home office, gazing out at the garden, the treeline and meadow beyond, the distant ring of mountains, none of it offering a clue as to what I should be pecking onto my laptop keyboard. Must have been eight times, maybe ten (maybe fifty) that I said, “Okay, enough for today, I should pay bills … catch up on email … write a blog post … find some laundry to fold.”

But I knew it was only the seduction of faux ennui, the mental lactic acid buildup that comes from genuine neural effort.

And then, the foliage broke.

By the time I finally quit, to go meet up with Ana and take her to dinner at our favorite place, for the first time (on this project) I felt I wasn’t any longer hacking my way into the jungle, but starting, just starting, to hack my way through it. Not like I can see any sunlight on the far side, not yet. But at least the deep mottled green isn’t getting any darker.

Maybe even a bit lighter.

I head out to dinner, expecting that I’ll feel exhausted. Instead, I feel only exhilarated.



  1. Josephine Gross

    Like. Also, not to underestimate, there was a full moon inviting us into the darkness, then shining a silver light …

  2. Art Manville

    Thanks for the great insight into the life of a writer. Say hello to Ana.

    • jdmann

      Thanks, Art — will do!

  3. Mark Given

    Love the thought process it took to write this blog message……….frontal lobe working……hack, hack, hack! Glad you’re doing well and on the path to another NYT best…….hope your evening with Ana was everything you had hoped for and everything she deserves……you’re the BEST!!


    • jdmann

      Thanks, Mark — appreciate your thoughts! (Great seeing you at the West Palm Beach event!)

  4. Christie Ellis

    It’s great you had the faith to know it woulds be coming to you. I think when we make that decision to finally put it off our minds, to relax, it actually helps our mind to work better at figuring out the answer, with out all our other “stuff” getting in its way. Congratulations on your breakthrough!

    • jdmann

      thanks, Christie ~ you’re right about the word “relax” in one sense: part of it is letting the mental shoulders go loose and not hammering at myself. The great temptation, though, is to relax in *every* sense … let myself off the hook, and do the writer’s equivalent of pushing papers around the desk, avoiding confronting the hard stuff. It’s easy to take some paragraphs one’s already written and edit them for the thirteenth time, getting them “just right” ~ it’s harder to “no, you’re not even close, keep going,” and keep asking oneself, “Wait, WHAT am I writing? where is it supposed to be going? where does it NEED to go?” and wrestle with the big gaping holes in the plan, instead of flirting around the prosy edges.

  5. Christie Ellis

    Thank you for that John…I have a better understanding now of what writers go through…and that is why you are so good at what you do!


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