Monday, May 27, 2013

Inspiration Monday: Making it Official

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending a wedding. This couple has been together since the night they met eight and a half years ago. All that time, they never once broke up or thought they were going to. As soon as they locked eyes on one another, it was a done deal--and yet it took them the better part of a decade to "make it legal." There's nothing wrong with that. That's how their journey played out and I'm sure they wouldn't have traded a day of their time to have it any other way. They ended up where they needed to end up and they did it in their own time.

The few, the proud, the unfinished. Well, some of them.
It just got me thinking about how this very same concept affects my writing. There is something about putting down some words and calling them "final" that terrifies the pants off me. As I think I have mentioned before, I am notoriously finish-phobic. I have more work that is half-written and collecting dust than I have dinner plates or pairs of shoes.

I'm not exactly proud of this. I mean, does a body of work count as a body of work if none of the work has a whole body?

Once, when I was a bookseller, I got to hang out for an afternoon with Tom Piazza. He's such a cool, friendly guy, and he has a good eye--or good ears. We were chatting while he was signing his books and he looked up to me and said, "You're a writer, aren't you?"

"Well, sort of," I said. "I don't know if I'm a writer, but I write."

He nodded. "I could tell by the way you talk."

I wasn't quite sure what he meant by that, but it made me even more self-conscious than I already was--which is saying a lot. (I am more notoriously self-conscious than I am notoriously finish-phobic.)

He went on to ask me about my work. I described a couple of pieces to him and he seemed interested. "You should get them published. Are you going to try?" he asked.

Hello, ground. I'll get down there eventually. Somehow.
I squirmed and toed the carpet with my shoe. "Well, someday," I said and fought not to scrunch up my nose like a frustrated rabbit. "They're not exactly done."

He nodded again and gave me a little grin. "Ah, I know your type. You're afraid. You're afraid to finish."

I didn't deny it. I wanted to, but he was right. "Do you know the cure?" I asked.

"I've been there," he said and shook his head. "There's only one thing to do. You've got to land the plane. It doesn't matter if you crash it or ease it down, but you've got to get it on the ground somehow. You can worry about how you got there later. All that matters is that you finally write 'The End'."

Since that day, I've thought a lot about what he said. The plane analogy made a lot of sense to me. I am afraid of crashing the plane. If I get to the end of a work and it doesn't feel like I thought it would (and it rarely does, even by midway), am I missing out on something else? Did I make a wrong turn? Did I take something pristine with real potential out of its wrapper and squish it up with my dirty hands and destroy it?

Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that I didn't have the right to manipulate my own ideas. Some of them are good ideas, and if I put my grubby little hands on them too much, I'll mess them up and there won't be anything good left of them. If only these ideas had been born to someone who already knew how to fly, someone who could get them on the ground safely and with a dash of style.

But they're mine. I am the only one who sees them whole. I'm the only chance they have of existing as they came to me and if I turn them down, they will fade away unknown and unloved. I owe them more than that. I have to try. Besides, if I can't crash my own planes in my own runway, how can I ever hope to learn to land properly?

So, I'm trying. I'm trying and trying. When I start to catch myself burning out on one project, I pull out another one and tack a few more words on that one. I'm making my way toward the finish line inch by inch. It may take me eight and a half years to make it down the aisle, but I'm going to get there with every one of these projects and we're going to make it official.

Someone beat us to it.
If you're like me and you're just a little afraid of ruining your own work, I challenge you to jump in face first and mess it up a little, just to see that it doesn't hurt and there's nothing you can do to it that you can't undo. It can actually be kind of fun, like the time my friend Laura and I turned all our main characters into (Zombies are so overdone. Xombies are the future.)

Do whatever you need to do to get there. Take all the time you need, but don't ever forget that every plane has to land one way or another. Give yourself a chance to land it right before you run out of gas and fall out of the sky. Your work is your work and nobody can do it better than you. Write it the way it was meant to be written--in the way that only you can write it. 


Chad Weatherford said...

I think I know exactly what you're trying to say. It's the experience or feeling or whatever moves you to write that you're afraid you're going to lose or not do justice to once you articulate it. I have had this interesting experience of being adopted & meeting my birthfamily abt 7 yrs ago. And everyone tells me to write a memoir. But it is difficult to explain how painful it is to turn it into something else by articulating it. It's unavoidable because no writer or English major is going to allow something to be written anything less than perfect. But you see yourself changing the experience with your words & so you get so OCD abt your writing that it never gets finished.

Marisa said...

Chad, that's exactly what I was trying to say. I can imagine that you've felt this in force dealing with such a sensitive subject as you mentioned. I guess maybe the thing we should both remember is that there is no "objective" story out there, like Platonic Forms of our stories, but what exists is what we create. I'd say it is probably true that we don't feel for our work what other readers' feel for our work and maybe we do a better job of capturing the emotion we're writing from than we know, but we will never know for sure unless we write it down and let some people read it. Let's work on not being OCD about it and just do the writing. We can always smooth the cracks and shape the clay once we've got something to work with. (I ended a sentence with a preposition! NOOOOOO!! *is shot by English major snipers*)

Chad Weatherford said...

Yes, I thought I was on the same page. It helped me when I decided I was going to teach & knew that it didn't matter what I wrote or if I wrote. I got a couple of poems published after getting my Bachelor's & shortly before working at the bookstore & honestly thought I would just write & not go back to school. It just helps to not censor yourself or hold back & not tell yourself that your life depends on how you express this or that particular thought. Now, I'm more interested in getting young people writing & I'll write if & when I feel moved to do so.