I like to write. Editing is a great career, but writing has been a wonderful hobby and sometime escape. Nonetheless, I go through long periods where I don’t write at all or can’t finish a paragraph before give up on what I have concluded is a defective story, essay, or poem. In fact, I don’t publish blog articles half as often as I should because I’m ridiculously critical of my own writing. (Sound familiar?) However, I’ve decided to pick up the pen once more.
Earlier this summer, I finally wrote down two partially composed poems that had been haunting me since February when my long-time friend and colleague Vanessa Ricci-Thode and I took a whirlwind trip to New York City that included a visit to the 9/11 memorial. Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing trip packed full of gorgeous sights and interesting events — in fact, Vanessa and I have already agreed to head back for a full week in 2015 (we’ll drag our menfolk along too, this time) — but visiting the memorial triggered a lot of terrible emotions.
I was twenty-one in 2001 and just beginning to grasp the workings of world politics; I didn’t know what a jihadi was and could hardly even imagine a war on home soil. But New York was pretty damned close. I wasn’t directly affected by the attack, but for months afterwards I felt a little nervous every time I heard a plane fly overhead. Thirteen years later as I stood at the site, I couldn’t help but recall the plane strikes, thick smoke billowing from the burning towers, and people jumping to their deaths while bystanders screamed helplessly.
The trip back to Toronto involved a midnight bus ride that took twelve mostly sleepless hours, plus an extra hour at the border thanks to one passenger’s lost passport. This afforded me a little more time than I needed (or wanted) to think. I had just relived a horrific moment in modern western history that spawned two disastrous wars and ultimately destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives. I’m not sure who would not have been affected by this experience, but I’m fairly certain that either (a) they’re really, really young or (b) I really, really don’t want to know them.
My thoughts and emotions churned as I watched the rugged New York landscape slip past me in the silvery moonlight while words arranged themselves in my mind. However, I did not write anything down until late June. One night, I started writing at about 10 PM and kept writing and rewriting until 4 AM, when I had two personally wrenching poems and one very long essay. I posted everything online in a note on my private Facebook page, where it received emotional responses from friends and colleagues alike.
I have since posted a few other poems using Facebook so that I can keep the content semi-private, but they’re not all as dark as that first post. Some of them are much more lighthearted — I’m not all doom and gloom. Really, I’m not.
However, I have also picked up the prose bug again and have been steadily working away at a short-story-turned-novel. Last year I had a bit of a slow period after a supremely crazy summer, so I decided to use some of my rather open schedule to write. I was inspired by a short story that I had edited for Vanessa (who is also a published author as well as an editor), and the theme of the contest she submitted her story to was “the underground railroad”.
I had already missed the deadline by the time I started writing, so there was no way I could submit my story, but that wasn’t the point. Really, I was just happy to have what I thought was a solid story idea, and after a week of writing, I had a self-contained story of about 11,000 words. I gave it to a few people to read and received some very positive feedback, even though what they read was nothing more than a tweaked first draft. This was exciting and very gratifying for me — all my other efforts at writing fiction had stalled, and here I had some kind of truly workable piece of writing. I began to wonder whether and how it would work as a novel.
I didn’t even begin working on it again until this summer, but I kept mentally kneading the concept. Once I had developed a decent cast of characters, decided on an end to work towards, and had a rough path to cut through the tangle of ideas in between, I started adding words again. Progress is slow, of course.
I have plenty of paid work to keep me busy at the moment and, because I’m a freelancer, plenty of unpaid work to do as well. (Like writing — or nixing — blog articles, among other things.) On top of that, I need to keep the apartment from becoming a total deathtrap while still enjoying something that could potentially be mistaken for a social life. But after a few weeks of tapping away at the keyboard, I have almost 20,000 words, and I’m still generally happy with the story. Usually, I get to a point where I write myself into a corner and develop a nasty love-hate relationship with the work, then tweak things, then cut things, then rewrite content to take a new direction, then come to despise the new direction, and eventually give up in disgust. So far, I haven’t reached that point. And I figure, if I can generally maintain an average rate of 1,500 words per week (a very reasonable figure), I’ll have a complete first draft by the end of next summer. If I like it enough, I’ll take the steps to find a publisher.
A year, of course, is a long time, but then, publishing is not for the impatient. Onward and upward my friends, one keystroke at a time.
(Okay, T.S. Eliot was not talking about writing when he wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, but you have to admit, it’s an accurate description.)