June 28, 2010

A Writer’s Courage

Beginning a rewrite on one of my novels is always an act of faith. I imagine, when I’ve laid my first version aside, it has been left in the best possible condition. Yet after a month or two of its lying fallow, I’m aghast to discover the amount of repair required. Carpenter ants, or some writer’s version of them, have nested in my computer, transposed sentences, misspelled words and created mayhem with my punctuation. These critters, not I, have miss-matched subjects and verbs, put an “e” at the end of tomato and begun numerous sentences without capital letters. As for the logic of my paragraphs or the sequence of ideas, a good deal has been scrambled.

Of course, nothing has invaded my files.  My advisaries are imaginary. Time has passed, that’s all. Gone is the narcotic high of inspiration. In rewrite mode, I awake to the imperfections of my dream like an addict rising from a soiled bed.

Genius, we are told, relies more upon perspiration than inspiration. As a writer, I know this is true. What I see spread across the electronic page is the remnants of that inspiration: half formed shapes conceived while the mind was in flight. But how does one give substance to gossamer without destroying it? The dream dazzles. Reality is a pale copy.

Staring into my screen, my novel appears like someone drowned, cold and colorless.  Can I revive it? Is it worth my time?

My experience is always the same. I doubt myself. I doubt my effort. I doubt my purpose.

Sometimes the lure of giving up is delicious. I could abandon my work and sit in the sun, reading someone else’s book, someone who has an agent and a contract with a mainstream press. Or, I could call a friend and spill out my woes over coffee. I never do, of course, because hope softens desperation. And with hope comes the determination to go on. I’m sure the sequence of emotion is the same for many of us. We rise each morning to seize the unblemished promise of a new beginning. Art imitates life, after all. Life takes courage. So does art.