I cannot quite conceive of how to write a book. I can imagine it but can't work out the nuts and bolts. My guess is that learning it requires doing it, like getting a mortgage to buy a house. I tried to read up on points and PMI, but didn't understand until my wife and I just bought a damn house and learned along the way. I'd like to think that just deciding to write a book I would learn how. Well, deciding and digging in.
It isn't like I haven't tried to write books. I wrote a pretty bad NaNoWriMo novel that has a few startlingly good moments. I drafted a hundred pages of a kind-of memoir. I planned out a book about writing Morning Pages and sketched another about good tools. I've made decisions and on occasion dug in. I've tried.
Except, I haven't really tried. Mostly I've come close to trying. I've thought about these books but haven't done the work over the long term. I'm not sure how to do that kind of work. Should I outline or let the book become what it needs to be? Is it too self-centered to write about myself? Fiction or non-fiction? Non-fiction for sure because I've seen how my "novel" turned out. Then again, I like some of that novel. Maybe fiction then? Under all this questioning, I stop.
Even if I do get going, I let other things interrupt (maybe to save myself from the risk of going forward) and I go down some sidetrack. The memoir went like that. I worked on it for a summer, but when school started I left it lying on the shelf for someday when I had time to get back to it. A year later I went back for a few pages, but had lost the feel. It seemed foreign to me or dead. I couldn't quite return.
I bet writing a book is all about returning. I've read that every book is a failure, but failures aren't full stops. They yield chances to return. I know a book comes from sitting down and writing, but it also springs from returning each time I wander away.
Return. Return. Return.
It reminds me of the carriage return on my old manual typewriter. The bell sounds near the end of the line and I throw the lever from left to right. New line. Return to typing. Return to writing. Return until the end of the line and return again until there is a book. It's so simple. Then why haven't I done it?
Returning often feels too difficult to attempt and so I put it off until later. Returning requires understanding, acceptance, a gentle touch with myself, and faith both in the process and my abilities.
I return to writing daily for Morning Pages, a blog entry, and other writing, but almost everything I write is done in a handful of sittings over the course of a day or two. A book requires returning to the same big idea daily for weeks, months, seasons, and years. Stephen King says he can write a book in a season. Good God. Dani Shapiro stays with a book for two to three years. Oh my. And George Saunders talked about the two years of revisions for his book. What? That kind of returning sounds otherworldly, superhuman, the works of the gods.
I'm easily distracted and interested in everything. I've been asked what my blog is about. It's about anything in which I have some interest. Last week it was writing about writing. Today it's how returning might make a book. Tomorrow it may be physical/emotional health. I want to write about it all. How could I stick to one thing and return to it again and again? Someone on the internet said the key is to have multiple projects going at once, but I can't get anything big done. Sigh. I just don't know.
When I first learned to cook I had trouble getting all the foods to the table at the same time. The rice would get dry or cold waiting for the chicken and the sauce would need ten minutes after the chicken was done. How do I time it all to come out together? Whoever was in the kitchen with me said, you'll figure it out in time. I was ten. I'm fifty now and, though there are the occasional screwups, I almost always get a full meal to the table, warm, ready to eat, and without much thought of how. It just works. I just make it happen.
I learn it by doing — making individual dishes into a meal, taking out a mortgage and buying a house, writing a book. I probably just need to try, return the next day, try, and return the day after that. Repeat as necessary. Faith and belief in the process and in myself will come along the way, right?
I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you. Speak up will you. Or just give me a push.