Saturday, April 26, 2014

What It Feels Like To Finish A Book

I've been slow to get my blog done, because I gave myself a pretty stringent deadline.

Book-finishes are so scary, I just twitch.

But so few people actually get to do this, to feel this feeling, I thought I'd try to explain what writing a book means, what it takes to get through the rough stuff, and finally to mold this mass/mess of words into something that resembles a finished work, a book.

I get a little whacked out writing books.  It's like that for every writer.  But it can get really weird for those who try to keep up with family, work, church, community.  I never did buy the starving artist premise or that we should suffer for our art.  Sometimes we do, but it's not the point.  We all try for riveting stories or a thought that might be original.  When I decided, more than a decade ago now, to try to enter the market place, I read a book whose author suggested that writers need to be about more than just showing off.  Your success would depend upon your usefulness, your ability to create beauty, and your authenticity.
That seemed a tall order.

When I left my job almost 3 years ago, I was all right with retirement for about three months. You do get really tired in the last stages of your fully-employed  life.  But it didn't take long to recognize that the money wasn't good, that I needed something to think about, that I was really confused about what that might be.  I'd published a book, with Conari press, they were interested in another.  But life, Holy Mackerel, life.  There were some walloping distractions,  My friends Rita and Judith, who've published books in the last year will testify to exactly how long it takes sometimes and how big those distractions can be. (Twenty-two years for Rita; a little less for Judy.)   I won't belabor what the distractions were, but jeesh!

I had three sort-of finished essays, but they really had no bearing or relationship to each other. They were built around events that had an extraordinary effect on my life. I didn't have a theme or a thesis (you're supposed to start out with those—failed at that). I was pretty clear about who the audience was, but there was a universe of options on what those folks might want to read.  A big, fat mess, that's what I had.

I was going through training to become a lay-minister at my church and Pastor Duane asked me if I had any concerns that he could pray about.  I told  him I had a lot of confusion and distraction about my writing projects, was basically lost, at sea. I'd been in that stuck place for 8 or 10 years, so you can see how it was a problem. Really,  I could have used a little bit of guidance there.  Within a week, I had it sorted.  Something somebody said to me at a workshop rang a bell and there it was.  The connecting theme of the book, the reason's for it's being, that made sense of the three essays.  It was the thing that made the project useful, that made it beautiful, that made it authentic.

So the middles.  I wrote 2 or 3 hours a day, 4 days a week, as the stories laid themselves out at my feet, as other books and the quotes reaffirmed what I was thinking about and why it was important.  Of course, I made a whole big bunch of mistakes.  Of course, other people have other ideas and experience.  Of course, a thousand times, of course.  A friend, Tim, wanted me to write more about men this time round.  Okay.

About a month ago, I realized I'd reached the dawdling stage of things.  I was close to the finish, there's wasn't much left, but I was stuck.  I decided to unstick myself and work really hard to finish—three weeks. That's what I gave myself.  I'm finishing up this week end.  What's left? A few paragraphs.  I also have some amount of editing and writing the book proposal, which I've already been working on.  Another week, maybe two on those things.

So, what am I feeling?  I'm having an out-of-body experience.  There is such joy, mingled with fear about a thousand things, none of which will stop me or slow me down, at this point.  Yet it's so tenuous, so tender.  My brother asked me if I would feel really grand about what I had done.  Yes, but it's tempered by the fact that a writer has to stay humble in the face of the next work.  Cockiness is the kiss of death.  I'm blessed by a dazzling light, realized, flashes of pride, and whatever it is about art or literature that takes the knees.  I'm there.

The little drawing is, of course, from Charles Schultz, our beloved Snoopy, whose lessons about writing proved to be truer than true.  Thanks.

Friday, April 11, 2014

We're Looking like Popcorn

Every once in awhile, my pretty little city turns out to be drop-dead gorgeous.  Like now.

I live in an older end of town and in mid-spring, all of our white blooming trees are in full bloom.  There are banks of those trees, around our local hospital, out by the mall, a couple of parks.  I'm simply breathless with it.  We're drenched in full blown beauty.  OK, OK I'll forgive the month in winter when we don't get above freezing, and the late summer when we don't get under one hundred.  

This is worth it, and we look, for all the world, like masses of pop corn.  Sweet and fun both.

So, our first  Big Trouble Support Group, the one we're working on in church, so that people who find themselves with diagnosis like Parkinson's, cancer, Hep C, et al.  You know, people in real trouble.

I don't know if this will hold, but I was a little afraid that people would be the teensiest bit unstable:  they might talk too long, or be a little bit unrealistic, or socially out of it.  Well, the people who came last night had all of that burned out of them, and they were the most pragmatic, kind, and considerate people you could imagine.  Real live troubles bring out the pragmatists, the humanists, the humility in all of us, I'm guessing.  
They were people who needed our attention and our prayers.  People need love and support in the best of times,  in trouble,  well. . .    They want to come back.  Here's my hubris, I sometimes think I know what they are thinking.  That almost always fools me.  People often need something entirely different.  So I'm always the learner.  There were three other women of faith, Maryanne, Audrey, and Debbie.  Serious women doing serious things.  Exactly whom we all needed.  

This feels like the center point of Christianity: helping people who need help.  There is no more daunting task, nor a more sacred space. 

News on the cancer fighting front:  Gail is on her last week of radiation,  only 2 or 3 treatments left.  She looks great.  She kept her hair, her energy is marginal, her stamina is profound.  Julie, who is a little over  7 years out, still has a good scan.  Had one last week.  Big smile here.