D.O.A. - Dead Moon
It seems like no matter how many novelists you talk to about their process, every one of them will have a perspective and story totally unique to that person and that book. I mean I haven't talked to Charlaine Harris or Stephen King or Jackie Collins. So maybe people who are fantastically prolific have a kind of system that works for them. I suspect, however, this system involves choosing a writer's life and being able to sustain a constant practice. I have never read a Stephen King novel, but I did read his book On Writing. I picked the thing up because I was on a jag of reading all kinds of instructional/experiential books about writing at that moment: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (I love this book. It is funny, helpful, and in what I found unexpected, a deeply spiritual effort), Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings (I never read any of Welty's creative work, but this missive was a wonderful reading chair experience, chunky ideas to carry around), The Writing Life, by the always incredible, pensive, and fantastically brilliant Annie Dillard, and one of my personal favorites, Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, who I had believed to be a woman until a first read in my early twenties. It is fascinating to me to follow along with a writer, talking about writing, as they are writing. It's so meta.
King seemed like a great person to read, as I had seen him in interviews and he kind of struck me as a dude I would want to have dinner with, barring my total and complete aversion to the entire horror genre of both books and movies. He was funny, he played in a band with Amy Tan, and rumor had it that he often checked into hotels under the pseudonym Joey Ramone. A regular cocaine addict in recovery. He said at one point that when he reread Cujo he found it upsetting that he couldn't remember writing enormous portions of the book because he was so ganked out on coke. I felt floored. Here I was wrestling with a novel for years, the same damn one, and he had pumped out so many, he didn't even remember writing one of em. The thing was, he felt sad. Like he had neglected a child and later found it suffering. Like he had, in his addiction, created evidence for his sober self of the future that he would catalog his own losses. Mr. King used this experience as a reminder to be present for the work. Other things he said that have stayed with me:
* Kill your Darlings This means that sometimes you have to eliminate passages you loved writing. Or passages you love reading. Because when you get to the meat of it, they don't support the book. The day I accepted I had to toss the first 75 pages of my novel in order to restart and write it in a sustainable way, I though about King. I was on Dolores Street running, sweating on a hill, knowing that if he could do it, a hundred million times, then I could do it once. It's been so much better since then, other than the fact that I still have less time than I would like.
*Write with the Door Closed. Edit with the Door Open. This one I haven't followed as much, and I find myself at a place where I'm ready to take it to heart. He says he barfs the whole first draft out without showing it to anyone or hearing anyone's opinion at all. Those opinions get in the way of the development of the book, and the roadblocks of the creative process are the property and struggle of the writer. Once the genesis is done, it's time to let the world in for the sculpting. I've been reading this weird blob to people for all the years the book has been struggling to life and I am finally at the point where I think I believe I can get this thing done, and get the help I need once it's on the page. But who knows? I've never done this.
*Don't Care Too Much What Other's Think. I am dismayed to tell you that this is the most difficult instruction for me to follow, in writing and in life. I, unfortunately, have a huge and fragile ego. A terrible combination, and my astrological fate. I care what my friends think, my family, whatever current nemesis I may be obsessing about, my lover, strangers. Everyone. This is a terrible disservice to both my work, and my sense of authenticity in the world. My mind realizes that trying to please everyone produces triumphantly boring work, and it also produces, in life, not just a mountain of resentments, but an entire mountain range. The Rockies. The Andes. In my heart of hearts, I want the courage to be myself, to write in my own voice that I have not begged, borrowed, or stolen from other people. I want the courage to let people think I'm an idiot, a bully, a show-off, and a bitch. I can be that for people. Whatever. It's none of my fucking business what other people think of me, or my work, really. Some people will read it, some people will hate it, seem won't even give it a glance. But the truth is, no matter what people think, I have continued to write no matter what. The best audience for work is the audience that chooses you. And the best companionship in life is the very same thing. Those folks that choose you. But at the end of the day, it's a really difficult instruction for me, not to care. I'm frankly just not that evolved. And at the same end of the same day, it's probably the instruction that will lead me to both my best work, and my best humanity.
Related to this, an author I know, and love, told me that their process for novels holds one similarity. They never map out an entire plot. They start with an idea about a story, and write down the avenue of that idea. They said one time they began a piece knowing the whole story, and the work was dead on the page. This writer found that knowing the outcome robbed them of the spontaneity and wonder of discovery as a creative force. I thought about this the day I forgot to eat before my run. And how the nice thing about being not being awesome at running and having all these setbacks, and even dealing with the obstacle of the pain my body is in, I have no idea what is going to happen. I don't know anything, which creates, as is traditional in plot structure, a certain tension in experience that excites the mind.
It also serves to remind me that the truth is that I actually never know what is going to happen. I live in an illusion that I can predict things. That the train will arrive when the schedule says it will. That all dogs bark and all birds soar. I wake up each day believing it is my right and my destiny to end up alive at the end of the day, rather than a gift. I don't want my life to be dead on the page. Or my book. Or my run.
So thank you, Stephen King, for these instructions of writing that turned out to be instructions on life. Maybe someday I will read Cujo and see what we both missed.