Eighty thousand words. The length of the average novel. Write 1,000 words per day and in eighty days – less than three months – I’ll have a novel. How hard can this be? Just glue myself to this seat. Open up this document labeled “Manuscript.” Limber up my fingers…
Did I tell you about my novel? Well, it’s not a novel yet. It’s what we writers call a work-in-progress. That’s also what my wife calls me – a work in progress. She’s trying to be supportive but I can see her patience is running as thin as our savings. I might lose faith too, but I’ve always got Ernie and Ryno here to encourage me.
Ernie is Ernie Banks. Ryno is Ryne Sandberg. They’re bobbleheads; figurines with disproportionately large heads mounted on springs that bob. I’ve got every Cubs bobblehead ever produced. I know, impressive, right? And they’re all here with me in my attic office, providing affirmation for what I do. Their heads all bobbling up and down and up and down… They are like best friends giving me unwavering, non-judgmental, unconditional support.
Oh, no, Starlin Castro doesn’t belong next to Ernie Banks. I can’t believe I didn’t see this before. He should be over here with Rizzo and Wood. Banks belongs here with Williams and Santo. I step back. They’re all bobbling their heads agreeing to the new placement.
Now where was I? You can see how easy it is to be distracted by other things when you should be writing. There are so many things that you could be doing –
Oh crap, I’ve made a terrible error in judgment. I’ve got Sammy Sosa situated between Santo and Sandberg. A quitter and a cheater doesn’t belong with Hall of Famers. No, I’ve got a special wing reserved for this one. I pick him up off the shelf by his steroid-inflated bobblehead and I drop him in a box where he will serve the rest of his bobble-less days. Sitting back down at my desk, I see the heads all happily bobbling. Satisfied, I smile.
Focus. It’s so easy to lose that when you’re writing. But, as you can surely see, focus isn’t my problem. When I’m writing, nothing can distract me.
Except that damned clock on the wall. Jeez, look at those seconds ticking away. That isn’t right. Nine o’clock already? That would mean – wait, let me get out my calculator (I’m a writer, not a mathematician) – let’s see, that would mean I’ve been sitting in this same seat staring at this same screen for, well, an ENTIRE FRIGGIN’ DAY. That can’t be possible; because if I have been working on this all day, I should have something to show for it. Right? But I’ve got … nothing. Only this crick in my neck… and this damned blank Word document staring me in the face.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tuck. Tick. Suck.
Did that clock just tell me I suck? I lift that damned accusatory clock off the wall … and stomp the crap out of it.
And then I sit down, put my head in my hands and take deep breaths. When I look up I see my Writer’s Clock – a kitschy birthday gift my wife gave me to show her support for my professed passion – in shards all over the floor.
Whoa…what the hell happened here? Have I lost my marbles? No. Well, maybe. Or maybe it’s just a bad case of writer’s block. But that’s nothing to panic about, is it? Hell, even F. Scott Fitzgerald struggled with this affliction now and then, right? So I’m in good company.
Okay, I just need to work the story out of my head and onto the page. Maybe I need a break. Step away. Get a good night’s sleep. Yes, that’s what I need. Sleep. And then it will all coming pouring out in the morning.
I’m lying in bed, trying to rest. So why can’t I sleep? I’ve been watching that damned ceiling fan spinning round and round and round …
What’s the problem? I’m doing this writing stuff by the book. Really I am.
MFA. Check. Conferences, seminars, workshops…Check. Check. Check. I’ve read Stephen King’s “On Writing” ten times. Ten times. Well, one more time couldn’t hurt. So I pick it up off the shelf and settle back into my pillows. A little of the Tao of King and … I’m asleep in seconds. And now I’m dreaming. My fans are lining up outside the doors of the Barnes & Noble where I’m sitting at a table in the middle of the store, my debut New York Times No. 1 Best Seller stacked up all around me. I’m wearing a sport coat without a tie so as not to appear too stuffy. I politely shake every hand that’s offered and then sign my name in the book with a flair that oozes just the right mix of charm and sophistication. They adore me. They’re eating up every word I serve to them. All that blood. All those tears. All that sweat. It was so … so worth it.
The cat swats my face, waking me, ten hours later. I’m wearing Chicago Bears Zubas pants, a size-too-small tattered concert T-shirt, greasy mussed hair, a three-day growth of stubble, and a body odor that repulses even my cat, who meows, reminding me I haven’t fed him in twenty-four hours. I trudge down the stairs, scoop Meow Mix into a bowl, and lumber back up the steps. I heave a sigh and take my place back in my chair. When I move the mouse, the dark screen opens to reveal the blinding bright white of the open Word document labeled “Manuscript.”
I start to type, because this is what I do and I can’t imagine not doing it and as much as I hate it, the truth is I love it even more.
All writers have their own form of bobble-heading. Be it Words with Friends, or cake, or binge-watching Downton Abbey, or more cake. It’s our way of doing anything other than write. The writer Paul Rudnick stated that writing is “90 percent procrastination.” I suspect he’s underestimating. We procrastinate and then we procrastinate by bitching and moaning about how much it sucks to be a writer. We wallow in our own self-pity and too often we herd everyone around us and make them wade in it along with us. On Facebook. On Twitter. On our blogs. Woe is me, the tortured writer. There should be a 12-step program where we can all go and admit, “I am a whine-aholic.”
Here’s the thing: writing isn’t easy. We all know that. William Goldman, the screenwriter of movies such as The Princess Bride and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, once said, “The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.”
He’s right. But writing isn’t the hardest thing to do on earth. In the words of another famous writer, Mary Heaton Vorse, “It’s just a matter of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” So that’s what I’m going to do.
As I set my fingers on the keyboard, I glance up. The bobbleheads all bobble their heads approvingly. I smile. Maybe I’ll shoot for two thousand words today. Then tomorrow I’ll reward myself with a much-deserved day off. After all, I do have an entire season of Downton Abbey to catch up on.