Monday, December 28, 2015

Writing about writing

I don't like reading about writing, any more than I like writing about writing, because dammit the second you start writing about writing, you start to understand why all those writing books say the exact same thing.  There is truth in the grueling agony that writers describe when writing about the writing process.  

I worked over that second book until it was as smooth as it was ever going to get.  And everyone who read it hated it.  I hated it.  It just wasn't a good book.

It was called Life Serial, and it was a heavily-edited adaptation of my MySpace blog, which existed from 2006 – 2011 as an outlet for me to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  Started a few months into my first “grown-up” job, the blog sprang forth from a desire to write about my menopausal coworkers.  It ended five years later on an existential note of unemployment and writing dreams dashed.  

If you’re not sold on this as a good framework for a book, you’re not alone.     

I never hit the level of fervor with the second book that I had come to expect from creative projects, and in acknowledging that to myself, I was both worried and unsurprised that it got such dismal reviews from those few who were brave enough to slog through the initial drafts.  I was never overtaken by the feeling, whether accurate or not, that I was writing something important, and that it was my top priority to get it down and out in the world.  While writing my first book, I would occasionally be blindsided by the reality that I was mortal, which meant that I might die before I finished writing it.  And that couldn’t happen.  

But Life Serial went nowhere.  After a third complete rewrite and a third round of devastating feedback, I abandoned any thoughts of publishing it.  Funny, the entire reason I plowed ahead with it the way that I had was because the blog that inspired it had been so much work.  Enormous quantities of time had been sacrificed to it – to honing my writing skills as I wrote it, and to figuring out exactly which parts of my life I wanted to share in the hopes of resonating with an audience.  

I thought that all of that work must have been “worth” something.  All of those words already existed, so I needed to do something with them.  

Except the only thing those words wound up being worth was more work.  The blog itself had had value in helping me through a period of uncertainty, but afterward, the words had no value beyond their capacity to create ever more for me to do.  It’s so ironic in hindsight because [spoiler alert] the entire closing argument of my first book was that sometimes the value of something isn’t in the end result, but instead in the doing of it.  

And yet there I was, not heeding my own life lesson.  

- From the Breakaway Book, quoted here to remind myself that things that are frustrating in the present often pay off down the line in ways unforeseen. The book was a dead end; the writing of it was not.