(Re)Write

At first glance a writer’s life seems idyllic. Work often involves a comfortable chair and a steady stream of coffee nearby. The commute is to-die-for since it usually involves a small number of steps from bed to said chair (no more sitting in pointless traffic!). The dress code can range from comfortable to embarrassing and no one will report you to HR (although your spouse and/or kids may complain). Also, I’m certain that if I were a full-time writer that the after-lunch nap would be an acceptable practice. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

However, like everything else in life, it’s not that simple, and I’m convinced that the word idyllic is an adjective much like unicorn is a noun in that it describes something that does not exist (sorry, if I’ve burst your bubble about unicorns). While I can sit and write for hours with nary a pause, writing something that is cogent and delightful is a different story (no pun intended). Writing is hard. Of course, if it were easy everyone would have a best seller in bookstores on Amazon.

I just finished my umpteenth draft of Into the Caldera. If you’ve been following this blog (you can be forgiven if you’ve fallen asleep and missed a few, okay, a lot of posts), you may remember that I started this novel with gusto back in July of last year. I pounded out the first draft in under three months and then started the editing process, which took me through more loops than a game of Candyland. I eventually ended up at my recent writing boot camp with a novel that still needed more work despite months of effort on my part. Quite frankly, I was tired of it and longed to work on another idea that had me excited (I’m always excited about the next idea; the current one – not so much).

By the end of the long weekend at the boot camp, The Fifth Semester, one of the instructors, Ann Garvin, had breathed new life into my novel. She proposed a couple of ideas that really invigorated the story and got me excited about the project again. I began writing, or I should say, rewriting in earnest that weekend. I thought her suggestions were just what the novel needed to finally come to a finish. On the surface, these ideas seemed easy to implement, but the reality was quite different.

A novel, like any complicated object, is built in layers. The layers themselves may be simple, but when the whole is put together with all of the connections, the finished piece is complex and intertwined. Removing one simple part or idea is like trying to remove one thread from an intricately woven sweater. There were only two ideas in the story that I wanted to change based on Ann’s suggestions, but those changes impacted other parts of the story that then had to be changed to make the book coherent. Like any book, I had a good amount of foreshadowing of future events and references to past events in the narrative, so when I completely changed some things that happened, I had to go back and adjust the references or, in some cases, completely remove them.

Once I changed the story elements, the dominoes fell and I found myself stuck in an endless loop of rewrites. I’d read and re-read the story only to find yet another reference that was incorrect or made no sense. At one point, I wondered if it made more sense just to start over, but once you invest your life in a 70-thousand word story, it’s hard to trash the whole thing. I kept writing and rewriting until I thought I had a coherent draft ready to send to Ann. After much work, I finally sent her the draft on August 16th, which was more than a few weeks past when I had hoped to send it to her.

I’m sure she’ll find things that my tired mind overlooked. I’m sure I will, too. I’m re-reading the story again purely from a reader’s perspective to see how it flows. The changes I made were major in that they change the tone of the story dramatically. I basically took a sharp turn on the novel with my rewrites, but I think it makes it a better story. Nevertheless, I’m sure there are many more rewrites in my future with this story. The writer’s life isn’t so idyllic after all.

Sleep

My wristband buzzes me awake, not in a shocking, sudden way, but in a persistent low-frequency hum. I tap it without looking to turn it off and stare into the space of my bedroom as my eyes and my mind adjust to being awake. A quiet solitude fills my house at this hour, an ungodly one to most.

My wife sleeps next to me, still in her slumber. She lays on her left side cuddled up on her side of the bed. The warmth of our bed beckons me to stay, but I know I have to start my day. Now. Before I leave the comfort of this space, I roll over next to her and wrap my arms around her, this beautiful woman. In the ambient light, I can make out the curves of her body, the hallmark of her attractiveness. I gently move my hand along her side and kiss her on her back. She doesn’t stir. I don’t want to wake her; I just want to leave this one token of my love for her.

The day ahead calls like a screaming baby in the middle of the night. I pull away from my wife and leave her to sleep for another hour or two. I move in the dark to avoid waking her, slipping out of the bedroom and down the stairs to start my day. The day awaits impatiently, and I jump on the fast-moving treadmill that thrusts me through the long, stress-laden hours that I barely remember when all is said and done.

The day starts with perfect clarity in those predawn hours. My mind is sharp and alive with intriguing thoughts. My creativity bursts at the seams, like a genie rattling around in a bottle that could explode. In these precious few hours when I can think of things that really interest me, I let these thoughts roam free until I have to herd them all into a corner of my mind and begin the march toward the tiresome routine I have followed for more than two decades.

Tiresome. That’s a word that captures the essence of what becomes of me as the day zips by like a meteor ripping through the night sky. The sharp-edged rock of my day gets worn down by the incessant waves of never-ending demands and imagined pressures until it is worn smooth and benign.

I limp home joining a depressing chorus of zoned-out office workers on the train. I escape into my book for the train ride, my final escape from the harrowing day. Sleep calls for me in the slow-motion dance before bedtime. The weight of the day is no longer bearable by the time I return to my bed next to my wife.

Once again in the darkness of our bedroom, my body collapses into the mattress. My mind suddenly finds a spark before I push all thoughts aside to get some much-needed sleep. My wife, in her favorite position on her left side, slowly drifts off to sleep. I push myself next to her and wrap my arms around her listening to the soothing rhythm of her breathing as she finds sleep, a rhythm I know so well. It is here in the darkness next to the woman I love more than anything that I finally see the day for what it is, another opportunity to be alive and to love this woman. I kiss her on the back again before I too succumb to sleep.