Writing’s seasons

The rains come in spring (and summer and fall if you live in East Asia), the wheat, corn, rice, grows tall and proud, ripens, and is harvested. The soil rests, recovers, and the late winter or early spring sees another round of preparing, planting, tending, waiting. The moon waxes and wanes, the temperatures rise and fall, the world turns and the cycles with it.

A project is conceived, ideas sketched, outlines given shape, structures given form, plots planned and characters given lives, interactions conceived, events unfolded. Writing commences, continues, flows, stops, pauses and unpauses, re-starts, re-forms. The clock swings round and the process begins anew. A flourish, a finish, a sigh of relief. No gratification. The next stage begins in earnest, the pain redoubles, trebles, the edits, the edits, the edits. The end no longer in sight, bogged down, stuck, interest wanes. Isn’t this good enough? No, it is not. If it’s worth doing then it’s worth doing. Really doing. Fully. Painfully. Heart rendingly so. You start again, and again, and again. The Winter of our Discontent. The long slog, the realization that this is not what we signed up for – but also that this is the most crucial part of any season. The harvest.

We yearn to create yet here we are, stuck in seemingly endless months of rewrites. What once seemed fine – good even – turns out to be crap on a second reading, a third. Nuances tweaked, scenes rewritten, character traits extenuated, minimized, maximized, expanded, interactions cut and added, events tossed out and others introduced. Such is the stuff of our lives, and what tedium it can seem.

Gumption is what is called for, and an alternation of expectations. The snows will melt, the ice will break, and sooner or later we will achieve the point at which we – finally – know that enough is enough, that we have reached our limits, that the book is now ours and is, at least marginally and with the humility that comes from baring one’s soul, completed.

How long does all this take? I have no idea. I’ve been working on my latest for two years now and hands down the edit has been the hardest part. The worthiest, no doubt, but also the hardest. Editing is what makes or breaks a project – or makes or breaks its writer. Is there a way to get better at it? Surely going through the cycle multiple times will help. Lessons can be learned and techniques grasped and applied. The danger? Re-working your style from book to book. I think that I’ve finally learned that first person is what works best for me and there is no way at this point that I want to mess with that. The task is hard enough as it is! Any kind of genre-hopping on top of that just strikes me as beyond the pale, at least for now.

Writing is an unforgiving lover, one that demands constant attention and is confident enough in itself and in its entrapment of you that it feels no need to give anything back. Slaving away we go through the cycles, but there, at the end of the rainbow, the carrot on the stick, lies the next bright idea. Hope tries to fly out of Pandora’s box but she closes the lid just in time, though not fast enough to rob us of a glimpse of it. Is hope a blessing or a curse? Either way, if you’re a writer then you write. You write until it finally and fully defeats you. You write because it is not only in your soul, it is your soul. So salud to you, salud to us, basket cases that we are, carrying the world on our shoulders, standing outside it that we might observe and comment on it. An idea strikes, another season of planting, the world turns again. Where will it take us this time? The journey is the answer, the path the only destination. Alive in our heads and dead to all else, we cast our lots and pray for a good harvest. All the while life moves outside our windows. Yet somehow, despite it all, contentment sinks in. Our fates seem fulfilling and not cruel, our identities satisfying, our heads held high. We write, we watch, we guard and record the human condition. We keep the gates: may they open for us.

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