Things come out sideways when you write, and they come out big, lumpy, and funny-looking.
Creating is like that for me, and why I sometimes avoid writing, because it’s entering a space where all births are breech, all meals require the Heimlich maneuver, and you can only get that sofa you bought part way through the door before giving up and leaving it there until the handyman comes.*
Even non-creative things roll off course and over the cliff, of course. The brain does not operate logically. It delegates things to automatic processes, tries to multitask, forgets, guesses, and confabulates.
This morning, I stood at the kitchen counter trying to remember if I had already put water in the espresso machine. I finally decided that having the machine produce nothing was preferable to having it spill weakly tinted water all over the countertop, and I turned it on. PRESTO. Coffee came out. One cup’s worth. Somewhere in the previous five minutes, I had filled my little pitcher, neatly poured water into the reservoir, and tightened the steam-proof cap, and not noticed I was doing it at all. Yes, I did that; but I was nonetheless surprised, as if ghosts had walked in and made my coffee for me.
Here’s another. I got out my flex-nib fountain pen this morning and started writing in my journal. I generally begin entries with an ornamental date, so I made a very pretty “T” and then with relish (because I love the tactile sensation of writing by hand), finished my careful script “Tuesday.”
They both begin with “T,” so it makes sense. I was attending to one task, and my brain produced the other part of the task. It just produced something different than what I expected.
Some of my writing is automatic in the same way, especially the most creative parts. Things pop up, happen, veer away, begin, or end without warning, and I notice after the fact.
I hear that some people outline meticulously, plot out their stories carefully, and follow their outlines. I also hear that the imaginary Chilean monster called the Glyryvillu, also known as the Vulpangue, is a snake with the head of a fox.
Which is to say that digression, distraction, confusion, and surprise are integral to the writing process for me. That’s what makes it interesting to write, but it also means that when I dip my toe into the current work in progress, either I go for a nice swim in the manuscript or a multi-tentacled Yowie with no neck tickles my toe with its long, bacterial, slime-trailing claws.
A book I read recently, which was otherwise rambling incoherent mass-market hype so I won’t promote it here, made the point that all parts of the brain, even the unconscious ones, the contrary ones, and the ones that feel like invading Camazotls, are part of you. They are not your enemy. You are not in a struggle against them.† This, dude, is what it’s like to be a self; you are a committee.
Because I’m a committee, I constantly have a set of choices when I write. Do I roll with the weird thoughts that seem to intrude, the digressions that have nothing to do with the plot, the urge to quote favorite poets in the middle of a paragraph, or the egg that hatches a dog?
Where was I going with this?
Revising is cruel and stern.
Revision has to get nasty with all those wonderful surprises, and revision is what I’m doing right now. I have to figure out whether to smooth, delete, replace, or re-order all those wonderful ideas that I allowed onto the page.
Every line is a decision. Do I allow Thursday to be Tuesday? Do I white out (or black out) the recalcitrant Tuesday? Or do I roll with both? Whatever my decision, it has to make sense, without being predictable.
Yes, I’m avoiding revision right now. That’s what happens when I write. I start doing Thursday and out comes Tuesday.
Now I’m going to finish writing in my handwritten journal, tidy my desk, subdue a number of Dobharchus, and go back to revision. §
*I went to art school, and making pictures is an even more painful process for me, because all the decisions are wordless so I’m sometimes standing there existing in multiple dimensions at once with paint all over me, trying to remember why asparagus.
†I discussed recently with someone how much we hate the “fighting a battle with cancer” metaphor. It’s your own body. That’s what cancer is. It’s not an invasion. You’re not a noble warrior dealing with Sauron. And you don’t “lose the battle with cancer,” either. That demeans suffering and death. What the doctors do to you with radiation and chemo is an attack, and a nasty one, though. Bacterial pneumonia, on the other hand, is a battle. (Viral illnesses are a conspiracy.) I don’t have a nice tidy metaphor to replace the cancer battle with, mind you, but someone needs to notice that stopping cancer generally involves sacrificing wayward bits of your own body, whether with surgery, chemo, or radiation, and thus is more terrible and pitiable than any “just war.”‖
§The Dobharchu is the father of all otters.
‖ War is terrible, and by definition unjust. So is terminal cancer. But I had a cancerous lesion removed from my nose earlier this year and the worst part of the procedure was the numbing shot. No joke. Shots in the nose hurt like explosions and make a nice well-behaved person say “Fuck” to the doctor. Also, that thing was part of my nose and now I have a dent there.¶
¶I got up early, so I’m not behind yet, but golly Delia GET BACK TO WORK NOW. **
** Did you notice the other thing I wrote by mistake in my journal?