Sometimes I enjoy the fantasy of people who write fiction and just . . . well, just write. They sit down, with a pen or pencil and a sheet of paper or a pretty notebook, and they put ideas to paper. Perhaps they pause, occasionally, to consider what word is best. Sometimes there is a strikeout and a revision. At times they rise and pace the floor, or go to a local pub (always around the corner, always full of friends), distract themselves, then come back and resume work, refreshed. The actual fantasy varies, but it always involves the idea that someone simply sits, writes, and there it is.
I can’t. At all. I can blog that way, and it makes my husband jealous that I can sit down and simply speak, and there-you-go, it’s done. Sometimes I edit, but no, most this stuff is off the cuff. I mean it to be casual, and I would be very surprised if many, many people didn’t find it formless, and I’m sure some find it gag-worthy. But I don’t write here to impress anyone or keep to a form. I just write because I like to talk, and this way if people want to hear, they show up, and if they don’t, they don’t, and I never know quite what the situation is and just blithely show up to tap things out and be done with it. But when I write? Oh, GODS, when I write, it’s some sort of circle of hell. I always start full of positive light and passion, a certainty that this time, oh yes, this time, it will be different. This time I will simply sit and write, and it will be wonderful, and it will finally be very good, and easy, and I will find a home for it with no trouble–I can see where it will fit already!!!–and off we go. Yes, when I start, it’s always rainbows and puppies, and the world is my oyster.
But in the end, this euphoria is nothing but a lure. Because once I get into the work, things start to shift. I can get all the way through a first draft if I just push, but always, always this means that mid-way through it morphs. Day becomes night. Happy becomes sad. Girl becomes boy. Something will shift, and it will be huge, and startling, and here’s the problem: it will be absolutely beautiful. Whatever comes at that shift will stop my breath, and I will be amazed and transfixed, and whatever I had envisioned the story to be before, now it will appear bland and dead next to this stunning vision, and I have no choice but to abandon it and embrace the change. I realize, then, that THIS, this glorious surprise is the real story–and I’m right. It isn’t a phantom, it isn’t a threshold guardian I keep failing to dispel. That’s how story comes to me, with a false start as a ruse, and only once I am so far in I will not go back, the real story appears. Usually if I let go, I can get all the way to the end of a draft, but I confess I’ve only done that a few times, because if I do this, the first draft is then half wrong-story and half true-story. For years and years I would find the real story then go back and restart, thinking this was more efficient. Not only did it not work, but often times it produced MORE shifts, and I got caught in endless cycles into hell. So I started writing all the way to the end.
But it isn’t that I get to write to the end of the half-half draft, then go back and rewrite the introduction, either. No, now we begin the middle period of a story, which is often the Heidi-tears-out-her-hair period. I start at the beginning, but suddenly everything is wrong again. I can’t find the way in that works. And then, when I do, the tone is wrong, and soon I get lost, not sure what part is right anymore and what is wrong, and I can’t see the characters clearly, and I spin and spin and spin, and walk away, then spin, then come back, then spin more, then fall down in a heap and weep, and then get tired of that and work again. I would liken it to a sculptor chipping away at rock, but it’s more a mad frenzy of layers, always beginning with the intent to remain rational and calm, but always ending with this surrender to the chaos, certain I have fucked it up beyond repair, but not knowing what else to do. And that, finally, is when things begin to come together. It is the point where I surrender to the story, when I no longer try to drive at all, when I give up and give in. I can’t get there any other way–I can’t even approach the story with a point of surrender. I have to go in rational, and I have to go in trying to drive, and I have to go in thinking this time it will be different. And that’s when it works, all the way through, when I begin the version that will stay.
I don’t know that this makes me a good writer–in fact, I suspect it makes me a very uncertain and vulnerable one. But whatever it is, it’s what I am, and I clearly cannot change it. I cannot become the writer who sits down and simply lays out words before tea. I am and must be the writer who struggles with the writing, who wrestles it to the ground, only to then yield and be the one who is wrestled. Everyone has their own way to the magic, and that is mine. It may make me crazy, and it may keep me from a lot of things, but it is mine. It is, apparently, what I want, because it is what I keep doing.
Thankfully, it seems to be what my stories want, too.
Hal didn’t know. He couldn’t even think. Everything was reducing, and all he knew was the pain and the sweet feel of Morgan against him. He felt another kiss on his cheek, and he melted into the bed.
“Whatever you want,” he said, softly. When Morgan started to protest, Hal fumbled against his face until he could press numb fingers against his lips. “That’s what I want,” he repeated. “What I want is for you to do what you want.” He felt the edge of the precipice, then let go and went over. “Whatever it is that you want to do to me, that’s what I want.”
Morgan’s hand skimmed over Hal’s stomach. It was shaking, and as he touched him, Hal did, too. “Whatever I want?”
Hal swallowed. “Unless you don’t . . .?”
Morgan laughed, a darkly musical sound. “Oh, I want to do many, many things to you.”
“Then do them,” Hal said.
Morgan took Hal’s face in his hand and turned it towards him. Hal opened his eyes and found himself staring into the strange, grey depths of the universe that was Morgan’s eyes.
“This is what you want?” Morgan asked, as if he couldn’t quite process this. “You want me to do to you whatever I want? You want to be my slave?”
His phrasing made Hal hesitate, but then another wave hit him, and he could only nod. “Please,” he whispered, clutching at Morgan. He was almost insensate now with need and pain. “Please—please.”
Morgan took his chin in his hand, pulled his face up, and kissed him.