I came across this poem today (thanks, Rod Dreher). I’m trying to ride out some specific things in my tiny world, so it seems especially apt. Maybe it comforts you, too?
Ride This One Out
Ride this one out, as you have done before.
Batten down what can be battened. Reef
What can be reefed, avoid the white sea-shore,
Do not expect a rescue or relief.
Endurance is its own kind of relief.
The other ships are sinking. You must be
Hope’s light for them, the north star of belief,
Time’s substitute for lost eternity.
And so resist the onslaught of sad thoughts,
That useless, wavering activity
Of mind stretched to its raveled uttermost.
Resist the hopeless cries, the grim reports.
Resist the landsman’s way, to hate the sea.
And hold on for the final sunlit coast.
Once again, I just got around to watching a movie others had seen years ago–this time, Stranger Than Fiction with Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell. (For the two of you who haven’t seen it, I won’t include spoilers). I’ve gotta admit, while the film has its flaws, it’s stuck with me for over a week.
The story is an unusual one. An author who’s suffering from writer’s block attempts to create a character who will live an ordinary life and then die at the end of the novel. A problem arises when the character becomes a real person who can hear the author narrating his life in third person. When he discovers he’s in a story he isn’t creating–and that he’ll most likely meet a heartbreaking, artistic demise–he must learn to advocate for his own life. He must confront his author.
The movie delves into questions about the nature of human existence and the artist’s imperative. For instance, do we own our stories, or do they live outside us? As writers, how often do we indulge ourselves by crafting stories that feel like an approximation of truth–but, in the end, rely on cynicism or well-worn tropes? Also, who’s writing the writers’ lives?
The movie’s also about depression, about what can happen to art when an artist has lost hope. It made me think about the characters I’ve created. What would I say to them if they stood before me? Would they appreciate the endings I’ve given their stories? Would they agree that I’ve said true things? That I’ve been fair?
I don’t know. I think so.
Stranger Than Fiction caused me to re-examine my commitment to creating worlds where both good and bad things happen, worlds where there’s danger and sorrow, sure, but also hope. It made me want to keep on saying the truest things I know how to say.
I owe that to my myself, my readers, and to those people whose stories I write down.
I sent my novel to an agent on Friday. She’d requested the full manuscript, and I’d worked all through the holiday season to get it ready because I told her I would. I ended up making my goal just after the New Year and was ready to ship it. Before hitting send, I re-read the first few pages, just to, you know, tweak it a thing or two.
Then something happened. I kept tweaking, page after page after page. Before I knew it, the first of the year had turned into the middle of January. Then the third week (heaven help me).
I started freaking out. I was going past the “deadline” I’d given myself and the agent. But the more I edited, the more I thought, “I’m so glad I’m doing this. I didn’t notice that plot hole the second time around. How could I not have seen that??” Also, I thought, “This will never end. I’m in writer purgatory.”
Anyway, I got through those edits and, this time, I ran spell check and hit send before I could go crazy again.
Now my novel sits in the ether, and I sit on my bed with no pressing deadlines and, therefore, no raison d’etre (kidding, kind-of). It’s true I don’t know what to do with myself now that I have nothing to do but wait.
This is how it is in so much of life–work and then wait. Work and then wait some more. Knowing this is completely normal helps me get through. I’m telling myself as long as the waiting doesn’t involve tons of Twitter, I might just be okay.
I’m something of a loner–not a complete hermit, mind you (though I eat in my bedroom, sometimes)–but someone who, shall we say, enjoys her solitude. That’s not likely to change any time soon. And yet I’ve been thinking about the trap of spending too much time in one’s own mind. Is it possible I could get lost in my head?
My sisters had an idea of collaborating on a blog where we share ongoing, three-way conversations about life. Committing to it would, of course, mean sharing creative control. It would mean responding to something other than my own whimsy. It might be complicated. But could it keep me grounded?
And then I watched this documentary about two people who wanted to “explore” their own minds (in, admittedly, controversial ways). One of them ended up making a train wreck out of his family life. The other managed to stay engaged in the physical world even after wacky forays into his own mental “universe.”
The whole thing felt like a giant parable: If you stay in your mind you will fail the people you love. If you never press in further than your to-do list, however, you will not truly live.
Back to my bedroom: I can only spend so much time here. I can only spend so many hours musing, writing, letting my eyes blur. I need time to think and pray, of course. But too much time in this isolated space is dangerous–not just for me but for the ones I love.
So I said yes to the collaborative blog. I don’t know what we’ll end up saying, exactly. But, at the very least, it’ll be a conversation, not a monologue. And that’s a good place to start.
I was the last person in America to have never seen the movie version of Stephen King’s Misery. Last week, my sister recommended it to me because, she said, it’s hilarious.
Remembering It and Cujo, I was a little skeptical, but I trust this girl’s judgement implicitly.
“It will not remotely push you over the edge,” she said. “There’s a little gore at the end, but it’s cheesy.”
Good, because you know I can’t do lifelike horror, I said.
I rented the movie, and she was right. It was darkly hilarious. Also, it was a warning to writers everywhere: Write for yourself or die.
The age-old argument remains alive on the internet, though. You should
Write what you want. Anything else is selling out.
Write what THEY want and sell books for $$ (but maybe not like it).
Write what YOU want but don’t expect anyone to read your endless dream sequences.
Stephen King has managed to write what people like and what he likes, I guess. Above all, though, he seems to be saying, go with your gut when it comes to writing or the whole business may end up killing you (or at least breaking your ankles).
It’s popular, in some circles, to deny the existence of writer’s block.
Butt in chair! Don’t wait for the muse! Treat writing like a job! they say.
They’re mostly right. Writers can usually conquer the blank screen by typing words in succession, asking ourselves what if? and then what happened? We can work ourselves out of a jam. That is, if we’re writing fiction.
You know when this “just do it” stuff doesn’t work–at least for me? When it comes to blogging.
I think the reason for this is that the blogging world has become so crowded that, if you do have a blog and you want people to read what you write, you feel an enormous pressure to say something useful. Give readers a takeaway, an actionable step.
I see a lot of bloggers copying other bloggers’ “useful ideas,” almost verbatim, because they’ve bought into this idea that the appearance of added value is more important than any sort of originality or creativity. The way to get readers, they’ve been told, is to do how-to posts.
Short ‘n’ sweet
Two picture minimum.
I, for one, cannot force myself to say something useful. Sometimes I do, but it’s often by accident. So I stare at the blank screen. I can’t think of a single thing to say that someone hasn’t already said.
This is not useful. There is nothing to take away.
I hope all of you had a restful holiday season. For Christians, it’s the time when we reflect on the lengths God was willing to go to in order to begin undoing the horror of this world. For others, it’s simply a time to hang with family and friends and eat a lot. In any case, it’s a time many of us want to enjoy but are secretly glad when it’s over. Because routines.
I mentioned before that I made the foolish choice to work on novel edits all through the month of December because I’d promised an agent I’d send her a full manuscript after the first of the year. It was a stressful and hard thing to do, and sometimes I had to set the work aside in order to really be with the people I love (without that glazed look in my eye).
Stuff happened in December, too, that threatened to derail my editing–things that had nothing to do with Christmas. For one, my beloved Frodo hurt his eye pretty bad and we had to rush to the vet on Christmas Eve. He sustained permanent damage. I cried. My novel languished.
But I finished the draft today. I saved the last chapter on the computer, swallowed the lump in my throat and tucked it away. I need to savor this moment because no one cares about it but me. Also, I need to celebrate this accomplishment because I could send it to the aforementioned agent and she might very well say, “That’s nice. Not for me.”
The joy could evaporate with a single email, and then I will have to regroup. When the sting wears away.
So I’m not rushing. I’m sitting with this quiet joy for as long as it lasts.
You probably have as much time to read as I do to write, so I’ll make this brief.
We all know the Internet can be an endless tunnel of trivia and despair. But, like a lot of things we love to hate or hate to love, it can also be a source of inspiration.
If you need a little hit of happy, check out this list of 18 beautiful moments in 2018. It’s written from a Christian perspective, but you don’t have to be one to appreciate many of the movie, music, and book recommendations (or the clips of uplifting television moments).
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
The wisest man on earth said that.
Others have gotten more specific: There are no new stories, just the same five or six or ten told in an infinite variety of ways. If you read often and closely enough, you start to believe it’s true.
Assuming that no idea or story arc is original, it’s still possible to do genuinely creative work. It’s possible to think deeply about things and come to authentic conclusions. Of course, there’s some sense in which we all retread worn paths. Still, you are the X factor in the stories you write, the life you live. No one can be you.
Why, then, do so many people seem to produce thinly disguised copies of other people’s work or parrot an “expert’s” talking points instead of doing their own work? There’s a point at which derivation becomes hollow. Most of us can sense when someone has phoned in a tired plot or spouted a canned answer.
I wonder how much shallow thinking, predictable plotting, and/or unexamined living is due to the kind of information we take in on a daily basis. How much do we consume other people’s opinions and re-think them as if we’d made them up? How much to we allow ourselves to go on autopilot, listening to the news or radio or scrolling social media to save our brain the trouble of wrestling through conundrums?
How often do we artists see some commercial trend and think, I guess I need to produce that if everyone else is?
My suspicion is that it’s…often. I’m no exception. I find myself binging, binging, binging on words that don’t enlighten or challenge me–ideas that don’t contribute to the quality of my thought life. If I’m honest, I do this because I’m lazy. I’m addicted to expedience.
It takes tremendous energy to think, and life tires me out.
But something deeper whispers, There’s a way to do this hard work. I might not like the way, but I’m going to find it.
I’m a bit of a minimalist. (I say ‘a bit’ because some minimalists don’t believe in owning a second pair of pants. I’m not that kind). I donate huge bags of stuff I cull from the house at least twice a year. My teenagers know the drill.
Me: It’s time.
Teens: We’ve already gone through our drawers.
Me: What about your shelves?
Teens: You brought these things back from Africa.
Me: Okay, not those. Do you have anything you haven’t used in a year?
Me: Six months?
Me: Two weeks? One day?
Teens: Can we talk to Dad?
But you know what I wish I had more of–always, no matter what?
Books. Not ebooks, physical books. I like giving them as gifts, and I love receiving them.
Ebooks aren’t going anywhere, I realize. They’re convenient to purchase. They don’t take up space. They’re dirt cheap, and I have a billion of them on my eReader at the moment.
But real books are different. They’re permanent. They don’t glow. They take on the shape you give them as you work your way through their pages. They feel and smell like memories (or promises, if they’re brand new). They can be shared, hand-to-hand. They can be stared at as you let your mind drift. They help you read better.
If you’re a minimalist like me, and the thought of extra items around the house makes you itch, consider this: shoes, old kitchen appliances, sports gear, electronics, sweaters, picture frames, toys, and pants take up more space than a 300 page book. If you must (and I, for one, must), purge your house of all those items. But, please, make room for some books this Christmas.