10 Dec Stack of Paper
“I’m writing a book,” said a lot of people who never did.
“I’m writing a book,” I said.
I told my brother Craig a year ago I was writing a book. I told my cousin Stephanie. I told my mom. Over the last year I told most other people close to me. And they all ask each time I see them or talk to them how it’s going. I’ve heard people say they’re writing books before. I heard people say that and never seen a single page from it, published or otherwise.
But, I’m writing a book. Mostly cause I don’t give a rats ass what happens to it. I want it to be good. I want it to be great. I want it to inspire thousands, nay millions. But truthfully, I’ll write one and there’s a chance my grandmother is the only one who thinks it’s worth a quarter. There’s a chance no one wants to publish the thing. But, God Dammit, I’ll print a hundred copies myself and call the thing a book. Why? Because I wrote the fucking thing.
I did it one day at a time. In earnest since last February, I’ve been writing. I wake up. I put on my poncho from Ecuador and my tan cowboy hat from North Dakota. I put on a record of Chuck Magione’s greatest hits. I make three eggs and two thick cut slices of bacon. I eat them to the sound of glorious trumpets. Then I write. Without fail, without a day off.
Some days are hard. I stand (because now I have a standing desk) infront of my laptop and just stare at a blank screen. If nothing comes, I’ll start recounting what I remember of my dreams the night before. If I don’t remember my dreams, I’ll start envisioning my life in a year and typing about make believe adventures. Eventually, something happens, something changes. I relax and I feel ready. A part of the story comes to me in a fleeting thought. I know where to start.
So I start. Sometimes very dryly and without much flare. Just the facts and nothing more. It’s a story I know because I lived it. And slowly as I recited the facts, the color, and the smells, and the feelings come back. The way people laughed or cried. They way they bled. The things we joked about. It comes flooding back. And time stops being relevant. I flow and I dance at the keyboard oblivious of the world around me. I write until the end of a story, until my mind tells me that’s the end of that tale.
It’s a job though so I can’t stop there. I pull up another blank page. If it feels right I continue in chronological order and tell the next tale in the long journey. Sometimes it’s a grind to keep going. Sometimes the next story that comes to me is from a different point in time. But I write what comes to me. Because the coming of it, that’s the gift.
After 3 or 4 hours I’m truly spent. I have no energy but to recite the facts. The colors and smells fade, the laughter and feeling I had start to empty down a drain in the floor. And I’m hollow, back standing in my quiet office, in my quiet house, aware for once that it has started raining. That’s when I know I’ve written enough for the day.
After that I get to errands, the essentials, answering emails, catching up with friends or family. I do it as expediently as possible. There is still work to do. When I’m not writing I try to be reading. I hope it will solidify the rules and styles of good writing deep into my bones and into my subconscious. I read Stephen King. When I finish with him, I read Jack London. After him I read a business book on hiring people. I read about killers. I read about trappers and gold miners. I read about managers and business. I read with an eye for what is great in each book.
Most of all I read with a whole new appreciation. I read with the understanding that no matter how good (or bad) a book is, someone grew immensely in the process of writing it. I read knowing that all of someone’s energy, their mind, their attention was spent, every single penny of it, into this piece of work. Because without grinding like that, without giving yourself to it, it would never be sitting in that form. It would never be in my hands. And so I love each book now and wonder their journey. Where did they write it? What was their process? What were their obstacles? How did they change as a person through that very unique and vulnerable experience?
And now I sit with my manuscript. Not yet a book. Just a sapling hoping to become a tree. But more than a seed. Far more. I’ll rest now. I smile at the stack of papers and don’t give a shit how good or bad it is. I smile because I made it here. I’ll rest and let the story sit, let it marinate in the world for a bit. Perhaps a week or three.
When I’ve forgotten the story, when I’ve forgotten the color and the message, forgotten the smells and the jokes, only then will I pick it up again. I’ll read with the same excitement I have picking up any new book. I’ll tear that son of a gun apart. I’ll cut the fat and trim the fluff. I’ll reinforce the foundation and rebuild what matters.
And then I’ll do the scariest thing imaginable. I’ll let someone read it. Only the one’s I trust. Only the one’s that I know will violently cut into it with their own mind and enthusiasm to make this as good as it can ever be. And I’ll brace for it. I’ll remind myself that I loved the writing. I loved the process. I’ll remind myself of how I smiled at that thick stack of paper knowing I’d made it. But I anticipate it will hurt. I worry it will hurt more than I can stomach. I anticipate that will be the real test of the book. That’s when we’ll know if the sapling‘ll find its own light and break on through to a tree.
Today though, I smile and look at a stack of paper.