I have been working on a piece of writing for a week now. I don’t usually draw any of my writing out like that; I tend to sit down and write what I have to, need to or want to and finish it. One sitting, start to finish and I’m done. Even if it’s a longer work like a research paper or a policy statement, I’ll usually get it all framed out in on sitting - or at least an entire section of it. I have to be in a zone, in a moment and on a roll. It works better for me that way. It can have a daunting effect, however, as I will put off those moments when sufficient motivation drives me because I don’t want to make the commitment. It is always an open-ended commitment; I never know where or how far it will take me.
When I do take the plunge and get interrupted, as was the case on the piece I started a week ago, it doesn’t feel like the same piece when I come back to it. It might have lost relevance or it could be that my head of steam, my outrage or whatever was pushing me simply went away. It’s not that I can’t finish it (I have added to it a couple of times now), it’s just that it has changed. It’s almost unfamiliar, a stranger, like we need to get reacquainted. We need to get to know one another all over again and it is sometimes somewhat uncomfortable. It’s not impossible and often it is unavoidable, but when I can avoid setting the work aside, I do.
Will I return to it? Probably, but it won’t be what it would have been. The topic? It’s a reflective piece examining the tumult of the late sixties and early seventies through the eyes of the child I was during that time. Not particularly original, I know, but the twist is in the growing understanding of what that time meant as I have gained understanding and maturity; taking that insight and applying it to the state of national and world affairs today. In short, it got complicated… my thoughts and the path I was initially motivated toward has changed and I don’t see a clear path through the piece anymore.
I know it sounds as though I have a very clear idea of what I wanted to do and to a certain extent there is a great deal of truth in that, however, in the moment of conception, there was something else; the idea almost had a life of its own. I only had to nurture it. The intangible element is now gone and I can no more recreate it than I could produce it in the first place. This stuff is just comes to me; I have no control when, how or where. Often it is an attempt to understand, sometimes it is an attempt to vent frustration and this time it is something of a hybrid of seeking understanding and venting frustration. I wanted to find that grove again - it was a good one. Instead, I have written my way into this one.
So here it is, one sitting and so many words magically appearing before me. In a way, this is a substitution - a late forth quarter rally to get some points on the board. It’s a way to salvage what didn’t make it to publication - yet, but hopefully will reincarnate as something worthy of disbursement soon. I am frustrated on a number of levels and I am seeking a means to make some sense of it all - writing almost always works. The piece sitting in literary limbo is eating at me - and perhaps that is its purpose. From it this has spawned and maybe this will return the favor.
I had an editor explain to me that writers tend to get “married” to their words. I didn’t really buy that, but if it means a reluctance to discard what has already been composed, then I guess that’s true. I have very little unfinished writing, but there is some. Burried deep on my computer are drafts of pieces that I just never finished or for some other reason remain unread. I can’t seem to delete them.
Maybe I’m married to them.