I had no idea that writing a book would be this difficult.
I thought that the challenges would come from wrangling with questions such as which adjective to use here, or how to avoid repeating that verb there. How wrong I was.
No, the challenge is to hold in one’s mind a library’s worth of thoughts and events, to know their significance at every level of detail from the microscopic to the cosmological, and – for each chunk of empty space on the two or three hundred pages between a book’s two covers – to somehow pluck from that vast repertoire a single, precisely-worded thought, and lay it in exactly the right place.
As the book evolves from an idea into a sprawling mess of complete and utter crap, that demand must be repeated exponentially before any order can be brought to the chaos. Because for every potential thought to drop along this physical timeline of words, there are a hundred billion alternatives that would be irrelevant, diverge too far, sound too repetitive, change the mood, stray from the truth, confuse too deeply, clash with something previously said, give too much away, ruin the suspense, depart from established style, or simply sound like shit. They must all be discarded. And yet they should not be forgotten, for many of those rejected lines placed differently might suddenly prove exactly right!
It’s exhausting to the point that it’s beyond my capacity to deal with it at all. Every day I spend at my laptop, sipping cappucinos and thyme tea in Yerevan’s sole non-smoking coffee shop, is a day on which my expectations for the book sink further. But my motives as a writer prevent me from publishing anything that doesn’t resonate intimately with my most honest assessment of the truth. And so I must plough on with a manuscript that I have filled with so many hours of toil that I can hardly see what it is any more.
Every other aspect of my life is suffering at the hands of this project. I understand profoundly why writers ‘retreat’ in order to work on their literary offerings. There simply isn’t space for anything else. The book is all-consuming. Even this post that you are reading right now is primarily a vent for my frustrations at the all the eroding demands of everyday life; a futile attempt to acknowledge and make sense of my fragility under this kind of (self-imposed) pressure.
The tiniest decisions and dilemmas become intensely annoying distractions, clouding the thoughts and making concentration quite impossible and any attempt at control over my own mood even more futile. I want nothing more than to be alone in an empty house in the hills, without telephone or internet connection, a pre-selected box of groceries left outside the door every day by an anonymous benefactor, and to stay there until it’s finished. I am utterly awful company and I feel sorry for everyone around me, and it is all because of the story I desperately want to be as effectively told and close to the truth as it can possibly be.
And the worst thing is that nobody understands. People tell me to chill out, and then ask me innocent questions such as where I’m going, what I’m doing, what time I’m going to be back, whether I would prefer this or that or the other option in a selection of choices that I could not give the tiniest crap about because I need every inch of head-space to figure out how, for example, I’m going to write this new scene into that section of the story without destroying the relevance and meaning of a thousand other passages scattered throughout the manuscript. That, and a hundred similar conundrums.
How could anyone understand, anyway? Hardly anyone has written a book. This is my first attempt. Every day now, as I approach the end of a fourth re-write, I tackle the greatest creative challenge of my life. But as far as everyone else is concerned, I’m just sitting in Yerevan’s sole non-smoking coffee shop sipping cappucinos and thyme tea in front of a laptop, which sounds like a pretty nice way to spend one’s time.
They wonder why I still seem deep in thought late at night or over breakfast, serious-looking, brow furrowed, quiet and uncommunicative. Of course. Most people forget their jobs as soon as they clock off. Their work manifests itself tangibly, they know where it’s taking them, and it’ll still be there tomorrow.
But my work (for that is what it is) remains imaginary. The mindset required doesn’t pop into existence whenever I feel like cranking out a few chapters. It has to stay with me day and night, for weeks on end, else I’ll lose my grasp on the things I need to to be clear and present in order to write a story that makes sense. And, throughout all of the searching and uncovering involved, the form of the finished article remains a mystery until the very last moment.
So I don’t blame anyone for not understanding why it’s not all that. After all, only I can hear the monologue. Hey, everyone. I’m really sorry. This is the way it’s going to be for a little while longer.
Hands up if you’re also a writer! Am I alone in this? Should I head for the hills and retreat from society ‘until it’s done’?