Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Some days, you panic. And then you keep going.

Sometimes you have those days of writing when you're intricately describing the way veins in a leaf can bleed through cells of liquid green and then you pause and you think to yourself... wait, maybe I don't want veins in my leaves, maybe my leaves should be needles instead.

And that makes you think, wait... maybe I don't want to be describing leaves, maybe I should step back and look at the tips of the branches, the way they knot and gnarl.  Or maybe I don't want to deal with the spindly twigs, maybe I need to back up the camera more, gaze up at the canopy and blur the green.

Or maybe... maybe I don't want to be writing about trees at all.  Maybe I want to be writing about flowers, great gopping mounds of color and petals dripping with ants.

But what if that's not right either?  What if I don't want to be writing about nature at all?  What if I've found myself waist deep in all these chapters having to do with leaves and I'm meant to be writing something else.  What if I've no passion for leaves anymore?  I just found myself writing them because I walked past a tree one day and thought, "Oh, that's passing interesting," and I started writing and now months later I have a treatise on these stupid leaves that aren't even right?

What if it's wrong?  Not just every word, but every concept, down through the roots of it poisoning the soil?  I've been mucking about in notions of leaves, shifting their hues, turning them dry and brown-edged and then back to wet sticky green trying to find what fits the story -- so obsessively wrapped up in the details -- when the entire concept could be totally wrong.

What if I'm supposed to be writing something more... better than leaves?  More passionate, more noteworthy, more interesting, more original.  But now I have all these words about leaves, what am I supposed to do with them?  Burn them and use their smoke to signal for help?  Start over and ignore that in a month I might wonder why I'm wrapped up in the way color shifts down the shaft of a cat's hair plucked from its tail and wonder if I should instead be describing the softness of white on a cat's belly or what if I should be writing about dogs and not cats or what if I shouldn't be writing about animals at all?

There are days like this, where the panic is so high in your throat you can taste it every time you breathe.

Libba Bray wrote something about it recently that was so perfect that when I sent it to my husband he said, "Yep, that sounds like you."  Libba said you have to keep going and she's right.

I've learned to take a night off, let dreams replace the taste of panic in your mouth.  It's always better in the morning and if not better, it's at least clearer.  What looked like a yard of stale leaves after a late autumn storm might be more like a massive pile of possibilities waiting to be jumped into.

Sometimes you take a wrong turn and you end up talking about leaves when maybe you should be talking about flowers or cat hair or some other detail any one of a millions paths could lead to.  In revisions I always say you should question everything -- there is nothing sacred in the draft.

Maybe tomorrow I'll love my leaves.  Hopefully.  But tonight I shall go out, spend time with friends, let the dark of night shutter the trees from my view.  I've had enough of leaves today.


Anonymous said...

This is a great post. Wonderfully written and spot on.

Eve Marie Mont said...

Great analogy, Carrie, esp. for those moments when we start thinking everything we've written sucks utterly. There are things to be salvaged and things to be trashed. It always helps to sleep on it or get a second opinion. Thanks for this post!

Jill Hathaway said...

"Burn them and use their smoke to signal for help?"


Great post.

Monica Mansfield said...

I experience this in the middle of a story.

Glad to know, it's not just me!


Amanda C. said...

How did you know EXACTLY the post I needed right now! Thank you!

Meaghan said...

I needed that, too. Carrie, I'm sorry that you are having a rough, panicky time. No writer likes going through that - I know I certainly don't. Your descriptive prose is some of the best I have ever read in my life - certainly without a doubt the best I've read in YA - you are on the right track whether it's leaves or needles, cats or dogs, you've got it going on!

Shannon Dittemore said...

Love, love, love this! Thank you.

Amber said...

What if you keep contemplating the leaves for a month? What if they still leave you with a panicked feeling? Do you give up on your thousands of words? Thank you for the post showing that even NYT bestsellers don't get it right the first time. Maybe there's hope for my leaves.

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Amorie said...

I love audio books. Like you said, it really makes a story come to life. I listen to audio books when I take walks and work in the yard or around the house. It makes the time fly!

Jessica Bell said...

Going through this right now. Received yet another rejection that has my anxiety at an all time high that I have completely missed the point in my own novel and I am way off the point of where I should be, writing about the wrong things...thanks for this post. Helped settled me a little in knowing that in the moments of panic I am not alone and that I can just take a moment to breath.