Friday, April 25, 2014

The Imperfect Stitch

I am on a writer's retreat at an undisclosed location* with some writing friends. Thing is: since I've been writing my novel for a decade and a half, I've always had a plan for what to work on. Actually, I've gone on only two writing retreats before this one, but what I mean is that I've always known at any given moment what to write. Of course, I've feared the abyss after the novel.  In anticipation of it, I've started many projects over the years. For instance, I do have a so-called "memoir" that I'm so-called "writing." So, you'd think I'd be busily using this precious retreat time to get going on that project, which desperately needs attention.
     And yet, this retreat feels different. I am actually not probably going to end up using it to write on the page. Instead I am thinking and reading and having feelings. I am proofing the galley, and feeling sad and grateful at the same time. I realize too that it would be really good to have some sort of process for letting go of this particular novel after so many years. Because it's done now. And that is weird. And I feel so many things about this fact, and surprisingly, not all of them are good.
    For a long time with my first book (a collection of stories published when I was pretty damn young, come to think of it), I always felt like it still needed editing. I'd pick it up flip to a page and see all the things that needed to be revised. (Was it Barbara Kingsolver who said something about knowing a book was finished when her editor ripped it out of her hands as if to suggest the writer is never the one to know when it's done, or maybe that it's never really done.) That feeling of wanting to edit my first published book lasted for years, and, frankly, it really cut into my enjoyment of the published experience. I don't know if "enjoying" is the right word for a writer's experience of a published book, but, if not, it seems like it should be.
    I don't want to have the same nagging experience with this novel; I don't want to constantly think I could have done better, should have not written that word, could have made it read more smoothly. I've worked so hard on it. I've poured everything into it, and then I've taken so much good stuff out of it, just so it would float. I want it to be its own thing in the world without my internal criticism constantly weighing it down in my own mind.
     What's true: You can't write a perfect novel. Or, anyway, I can't.
     I can only write what I wrote (and wrote and wrote and revised and rewrote and tore up and cut out and revised and wrote some more for 15 years +.) So, maybe that's the key to letting go. I don't know. Is it? Do you know? Is this what writers go through when they publish a book? Or is this just what I am going through?
     Remember the prayer-mat makers who always include an imperfect stitch in a perfectly wrought rug, so as to remind themselves that only God can make something perfect? Maybe it's like that. Maybe I am being arrogant to think I can write any better than I can write. Maybe I can gratefully accept that this is simply the thing I am putting forth in the world with all its imperfect stitches. Of course my imperfect stitches aren't intentional at all, but what can you do?
     Conclusion: I've worked so hard to get here and I don't really know what I'm doing. I didn't know with the first book either, but at least now I can see more clearly how much I am just completely winging it.
    Alas, as the fine rejecters of the world sometimes say.

*I do amuse myself.

1 comment:

Emily Saso said...

One of your best posts, in my opinion. Thanks for sharing. I am so very much looking forward to reading your novel when it comes out.