The Light at the End
by Joy Corcoran
I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.—Douglas Adams
I love writing intensives like the Chapter Book Challenge. They forces me to make writing a priority, but I’ve learned over the years, that such intensity courts disaster. A deadline puts the universe on edge. Appliances and vehicles develop strange tics; the flu makes rips through the family; the toilet stops up; friends need support; pets break out in bizarre rashes. It may be that all these things happen even when I don’t have a deadline, but it feels like they all conspire to make it impossible to stick to a writing schedule.
And yet, even with all the interruptions, the challenge keeps writing on the front burner and makes me get back to it as soon as disaster subsides.
Putting together a novel or chapter book is such a difficult thing. Inevitably, I don’t make the deadlines I set for myself. I wonder sometimes if I could keep one if a publisher was waiting for my draft. But I know many published writers who can’t make the muse work any faster than it wishes. And most editors seem to understand that a deadline is malleable thing.
Anne Lamott said that trying to write a novel is like trying to tuck an octopus into bed. I sometimes think that writing something like a short story, a picture book, or a chapter book might be easier. In reality, though, it may be a smaller octopus, but it has the same number of tentacles.
Even if I do make the deadline, and at the end of the month have a great polished draft, there’s no guarantee that anyone in the publishing world is going to read it. I may be revising and resending for years, and still not get published.
What, then, is the point?
For me, in spite of repeated “failures,” and long periods of not even trying to get published, the work of writing, the process itself, is the point. It’s the real payoff. Writing helps me organize my own stories and create a personal mythology. As I struggle to describe what is happening in a story, I’m rewarded with language for and insight into what’s happening in my life.
Not everyone wants to hear what’s happening in my life. Stories of all kinds are competing for everyone’s attention – books, movies, videos, games – and let’s not forget real life.
But paper always wants to hear what I have to say. It’s always urging me to say things more clearly, to create a more accurate, better plotted way of telling my heart’s truths.
And when I do finally create a real story, with a beginning, middle and just the exact right ending – there’s no better feeling. What a delight to know that I’ve taken all those loose threads and woven them into a blanket that covers the octopus perfectly.
Most of my stories aren’t published. Most of them never will be. Many of them are still in my journals, scribbled out in cursive with a ball point pen.
My novel has been worked on, worked over, and reworked many times. I have yet to decide if it’s for young adults or for all adults. I often feel frustrated by it and by the compulsion to keep going back to it.
The poet W. S. Merwin once said that if you’re not sure you’re a writer, try to quit. I tried. Why set myself up for failure? Why work for months on a story that’s not going to earn me any money?
But I couldn’t quit. I wrote journal after journal, but I kept all my stories close to my heart and didn’t share them. It was both fear and confusion. A lot was going on in my life. I had health problems, money problems, and relationship problems. But in the midst of all that, because I couldn’t quit writing, because I kept up that compulsion, I discovered the real treasure of writing stories.
Life is complicated and much of what we feel is murky. We stumble around in a kind of darkness with too much information and not enough understanding. A good story puts things in perspective and creates a map of where I’ve been, and where I might go. When we create our own stories, we ravel up the frayed edges of our lives. Even if you’re writing pure fantasy, some bit of yourself becomes clearer, more defined.
I ultimately write to understand myself, to have the words, images, and metaphors of my life sketched out. I write to find my own light.
What about you? Why do you write?
Today's prize is the book by Ray Bradbury. If you are a signed-up member of ChaBooCha, all you need to do to be entered into the drawing for this book is comment on this blog post. Winners will be selected from a random number generator on March 31st at noon (GMT).