What it’s like to write a book
How to write a book? i’m glad you asked.
You create a road map, scribbled on flimsy notebook paper. You’re charting a course in shifting landscape. Directions fall off the page. Arrows mark U-turns. X’s blot out wrong turns. You cannot calculate the distance. Major destinations are eventually plotted. Even then, when you arrive, some places aren’t what you imagined.
Sentences begin to appear from invisible ink. The path is illumined just in front of the next word.
You lurch forth in fits and starts. As in a dream, your vehicle transforms. A zippy sports car becomes a Model T becomes a runaway train. Your family and friends have no idea where you’ve gone or when you might return. You worry they will forget you.
Your family and friends have no idea where you’ve gone or when you might return. You worry they will forget you.
A flash of lightning reveals storm clouds. The road narrows, strangely propelling you forward. Plot points shift and shimmer on the horizon. Your Protagonist runs off with the pool guy. You extricate her from this terrible cliché.
Thunder rumbles across the canyon. The sky darkens. Rain pelts the blackened road into a slippery eel. Shadowy figures leer at you from the side windows; doubt and its evil twin, despair. The bridge behind you has collapsed so there is no turning back. Anxiety rides along in a sidecar with its own gas pedal.
You plow ahead. Then everything stalls. The tank is empty. The battery dead. No tow truck driver would be able to follow your map.
The storm passes. The sky clears. That missing element you’ve been seeking presents itself in a will-o-the-wisp fashion. You try not to let it know you’re looking, because ideas are shy things. Or perhaps they travel on wave lengths that hover on the edge of the visible spectrum.
You try not to let it know you’re looking, because ideas are shy things.
“Seeing is […] very much a matter of verbalization,” says Annie Dillard, the consummate observer. “Unless I call attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it.” Conversely, things disappear when you try too hard to see.
Inspiration and ideas dwell in a place not governed by language. It is the writer’s job to find words to attach to incorporeal thoughts. And to give coherency to a hodgepodge of disparity.
While words have form, they are insubstantial things. Little more than two-dimensional stick figures, these are the tools we are given. There are days when we feel hardly more than cave dwellers sending up smoke signals. Other days, we are warriors, hurling our inadequate words outwards, catapulting them across great chasms of empty space hoping they will find their landing place.