Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Getting Back to Writing

As many of you know, I've been sick for a long time. I was in bed for months, but I'm getting well enough to get back to life. Well enough to get back to writing. Every time I've taken a break from writing though, getting back to it seems almost as hard as getting through what ever took me away from it. They say once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. That doesn't mean you're likely to go jump back on one either though.

When we take a long break from writing, I don't think we forget how to do that either, it's the jumping back on, or jumping back in as it may be, that gives us the trouble.

I still know how to write, and the story I was working on and the one I was editing are both still alive in my mind, but it's like they are on life-support. Getting them breathing again, getting me writing again, might take a little CPR.

Having been through this before, I know there comes a point where you just have to stop putting it off, set a date and jump in. I started Monday. It was supposed to be Monday morning, but I had some really important things I had to handle first. Like, well, there was these dirty clothes in the bathroom, and I found grime in the kitchen sink. Oh, and Monday's are good days to pay the bills, and who wants to start writing when you have a backlog of mail in the in box. Then the dogs did kind of need a bath, and there was.... See, all very important things that couldn't be put off. Right?

Finally I took hold of myself, forced my butt into the computer chair, fought with my hand to keep it from opening up my e-mail program, and made it open the file that held my incomplete manuscript instead -- and then stared at it for a good fifteen minutes as my brain rebelled and other things tried to call me away.

After that, I began by reading over the last chapter I had written. Funny how I recalled some of it so well and wondered if someone else had written other parts of it while I had been away. I had to resist the urge to go back to page one and read the whole story away. I need to do that I'm sure, but I needed to write first. In the end, before I closed the file, I wrote two pages. Yes, two pages, that's it. Those were two very hard pages to write. It felt like trying to get ice out of a cactus.

The next day, I found things to do, and I didn't feel very well, but I opened that manuscript a little sooner than the first day, and I did two pages again. The last half a page was a real push. I had wanted to go up a page and do three, but I knew when it was time to call it a day and let myself be satisfied with what I had accomplished. Today, I've already done my two pages, hoped for three again, but didn't make it again. It's early enough though, that there's a chance I might get brave enough to give it another try. No, I'm not going to count this as writing, since it's non-fiction and my goal is fiction.

I'm not going to be too hard on myself either. After all, I'm in training. At least that's the way I look at it. My husband runs marathons. The full ones. You know, the 26.2 mile ones! (Bless his crazy little heart.) He trains for weeks before one. When he starts out, he doesn't run 26.2 miles, or even 13 miles, or eight. He starts small and just keeps building. It's a daily thing for him.

When I first got where I could get out of bed again, walking through the house left me winded and feeling like I had been doing one of his workouts. Being up on my feet for more than a little while left my back feeling like it would break just from holding me up right. I didn't push myself and go outside and walk for an hour...although I used to walk at least an hour five days a week. I just kept walking around the house, standing longer, sitting longer. Slow day after slow day. Now I can walk for thirty minutes or more before I start wearing down. I can stand up for an hour and half or longer before my back screams enough. I got here, and will get further, by taking it easy on myself, going at my own speed, and getting back to what once was my normal at a comfortable pace for my body.

I'm handling my writing the same way. Right now my goal is to write at least five days a week. Even if it's only two pages, or even if it's less. I'll keep building, letting my writing muscles get stronger, and one day I'll be back to where I was. I've never been one of those writers who can put out twenty pages a day, but on good days I used to be able to pull ten or so. I will again, if I hang in there and don't give up.

By the way, friends have asked me why I don't just give up. If it's that hard to get back to it, then why not just call it a day and move on to something else? I've asked myself that before. Okay, I've screamed that at myself a lot of times.

This is not by far my first long spell away from writing. I didn't write for over a year after I lost my mother, for months after my father died, for months after we recovered from hurricane Katrina. One time I just found myself depressed with all of the rejections and with all the wasted time I had put into my writing and gotten no where. Another time I gave up my fiction writing to do freelance non-fiction for a few years so I could help pay the bills. When I started the freelance work, I thought I could do both, but I was so drained by the time I finished my deadline and turned in my work each week, there just was no writing left in me for my fiction.

So, if I've had to fight so many times to get back to my fiction, why keep fighting? I wish I knew. I've tried to walk away for good a number of times. I really have.

The same thing happens every time though. Once the bad gets better and I start getting over that black spell of time, whatever it may be, the characters in my stories won't stay out of my head. I think about my storylines, about my characters, I plot things out, build in more conflict, map out whole scenes in my mind. Openings for new stories pop into my thoughts, new characters show up and whisper something like, "Do you want to know why I fell in love with him?" The next thing I know, even if I'm not writing, it's taking up such a big part of my life, that there's just no way to completely give it up.

That means the choice becomes either keeping these stories growing only in my mind, or sitting back down at the computer, opening up Word, and getting on with it. It's like one part of me fights getting back to it, but another part fights just as hard to get back to it, and I'm just caught in the middle and finally have to give in and go with the stronger part--that writer in me that won't say die. (Wonder if there's a 12-step program out there for it?)

So, here I go again!

If you've got that stronger writer part in you, and you can't get away from it even when you try your best. Maybe it's time you give in and start back. Answer that character that won't leave you alone, that story that keeps plotting itself out even as you try to block it. If I'm brave enough to give it another go for the I-don't-know-how-manyth time, I know you are.

All we have to do is take one step at a time...or just write one word at a time. The story you finish this time might be the one that helps you reach whatever your goal is.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back and good luck! I soooooo know where you're coming from. It's hard to keep going sometimes, but quitting is impossible.

Charlotte Dillon said...

Sorry that you know where I am coming from so well. Maybe this will be the year for both of us.