I’m Writing a Novel. Where’s the Xanax?

Hemingway

Hello all!

I’m Savanna James – mother, wife, faithful tax payer, and scarily enough, a-wanna-be writer. I know what you’re thinking. Why in the world would anyone in their right mind choose to be a writer? I’ve been asking myself that very same question. And still, almost a year later, I’m stumped. Really fucking stumped.

To be completely and inappropriately honest, if I could choose anything to do with what little free time I have between work, giving my kids enough attention so they won’t grow up to be serial killers, and keeping my husband half-way sexually satisfied with half-ass blow jobs and quickies, stressing myself with all the shit that comes along with writing, is the last thing I want to do.

I could do better things with my time, like lying in bed, curled up with Steinbeck, Faulkner, or one of my smutty, tingly books – reading the art of words, instead of trying to create them. But just like the mini-sized Snicker, Twix, and Hershey chocolate bars I just inhaled, reading curbs the craving for something bigger, but it doesn’t satisfy it.

Any author worth their soul will tell you the same thing – nothing reinforces the desire to write more than reading a book that reaches deep within you and stays there.  For me, it was the opening line of Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize-winning novel, Beloved, “124 was spiteful.  Full with a baby’s venom.”  When I first read Beloved, I was a neophyte reading a book too old for my senses.  At 16 years old, I was interested in Lil’ Kim, who’s wearing what, and making out with my boyfriend to really absorb the power of her words.  At 21, I revisited the book and, finally, the significance of those words hit me.  In eight words, Morrison encapsulated the spirit of her novel and, because of her talent, I was able to see the beauty in writing and pick up a pen myself.  A single book made me believe in writing.  No, scratch that.  A single book made me believe I could be a writer.  For a few years, I dabbled a bit.  Nothing serious, only for fun.  Yet, the desire to be like Morrison or Steinbeck was still there, dictating every syllable I wrote.  I wasn’t trying to emulate their styles. All the greats are unique; no one can match their individual style. I was studying their patterns, deciphering mysteries of how they were able to write books that pass through time, remaining relevant so many years after their publication.

That is the one defining attribute of a great writer – whether their stories can transcend time.  To do that, it has to hit the same nerves, have the same meaning now and 50 years down the line. That is what I wanted for myself. My God, I wanted it and I set out to have it.  But first, I needed a story to tell.

Without plan or provocation, out of nowhere, an idea hit me one day.  I held on to it for a while, felt it grow inside my head until I had no other choice but to free it by setting it on paper. I should have been excited, right?  My dream was finally coming to fruition. Wrong! Little did I know what was in store for me.  If I had, I wonder if I would have even bothered.  I really wish Toni, William, or John would have warned me.

In my dreams, when I would envision myself writing, I would be in my “fortress of solitude,” a.k.a the spare bedroom, sitting in a comfortable chair, a large monitor before me, while Miles Davis played in the background.  Beside me, a chilled glass of white wine would be emptied and refilled numerous times until my head was swimming in a sea of imagery the likes of which no sober mind could make-up. It would be like Hemingway’s secluded Cuban hideaway, except for the missing tropical weather and the two pairs of tiny arms pounding against the make-shift door for admittance.  I’m sure Hemingway didn’t have that.

Anyway, I created my fortress of solitude and began my journey. Sounds like heaven on Earth, right?  But here’s the rub: for all the romantic bullshit we writers delude ourselves with, for some reason, we never really think about the in-between – the purgatory between the inception of an idea and the final written product.  A lot of bullshit fills up that space. A lot.  The deeper you get into it, the more difficult it is to finish.

It’s easy when you’re just beginning and the passion is there.  When shit is all good and the words are flowing out of you, you find yourself in an euphoria, rivaled only by illegal drugs. You write and you write.  In your mind’s eye, you see the path the characters will take.  The ending is just around the corner.  Then suddenly, a big fucking block lands right in front of you.  You try to move it.  Try to get around it.  But it’s stuck, rooted deep, with little slack to give. During these times, I would wonder, did Faulkner ever feel this hopeless?  Did Morrison ever doubt the significance of 124 was spiteful?  Then a nasty little bitch inside my head (yes, I have a voice inside my head.  Don’t act like you don’t) would not so gently remind me that Faulkner and Morrison are real writers.  They don’t doubt themselves.  Of course, I know this is pure bullshit but when you’re in writer’s hell, with greenie self-esteem, shit like this starts making sense.  And it only gets worse.  Let’s just say that in the last year, I’ve had several panic attacks, crippling bouts of self-doubt, and have become very acquainted with my neighborhood liquor merchant (we’re on a first name basis now).

Yet, despite all the frustrations, every day, I get up, turn on my computer, and attempt to write. Most of the time, I sit in front of the screen, for God knows how long, staring at the damn thing as if we’re in a staring contest. And you know what? I always fucking blink. Yes, I blink and let an inanimate object get the best of me. I scream “fuck you” at it, throw something, and stomp away swearing to never allow my fingers anywhere near it, unless it’s to troll through Zappos.com for shoes I don’t need.

My tantrum brings me no satisfaction. My absence from my characters leaves me irritable and just a downright bitch to anyone who dared to walk in my path. To my husband’s chagrin, I walk around the house, with my feelings crisscrossing between “fuck writing” to “I miss writing so much.” He stares at me with a look that says, “I wonder how much paper work I’ll have to fill out to get her committed?” And because he has the patience of a tick, and has no time for paperwork, he lets me feel sorry for myself.

But time passes even for lunatics. I go about my days, minute-by-minute; hour-by-hour. Sometimes, my lack of writing is all I can think about. Other times, my real life is so demanding that I can barely spare a moment to mourn its loss. But then something will happen, almost like that first day you realize it’s winter. You’re going about your life, not paying attention to the change in the landscape or the shorter days. Then you look up, and the trees are bare, the sky gray. You taste the air and suddenly you feel the cold rolling over you. Winter is here.

That is how my inspiration comes back to me. Slowly, silently, but with force.  In the shower or while driving, I’ll feel a tickle in my ear. At first, I ignore it, relegating the tickle to a phantom breeze. But, the tickle persists and transforms into words, then sentences.  Before I know it, my characters are all present again, their words pouring out loud and clear. At this point, I usually laugh like a loon, looking around for my computer until I realize that I’m in the fucking shower.

I don’t let that annoying fact kill my joy. Nothing can. Why? Simply put – no matter how much I curse and rail – at the heart of it, writing is the one thing in my life that is mine. MINE. MINE. MINE. I know I sound like my 5 year-old, but it’s true. I share my house, my time, my money, and my sanity with my family and friends. I don’t mind sharing these parts of my life with the people I love; that’s what it means to have a fruitful life.

However, even Mother Teresa needed a little something on the side to feed her soul. For her, it was her faith. For me, it’s my writing. It is the only thing in my life I control without the influence of others.  It flows or stagnates because of me.  My characters cannot live if I don’t write them.  I give them voice, and if I want their voices to be heard, I have to stop talking shit and write.  Write what makes me happy, write what makes me sad.  Write crappy shit, write good shit.  Just write.

I’m at the beginning of my journey, with only a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a few loved ones behind me.  I may never get published, and as much as I try to tell myself that if I am rejected, I will be okay, I know the truth.  I will be crushed, beyond consolation.  I could play it safe and spare my heart any future pain by finding something less dangerous to my mental health.  But what would I do?  Who would I be without writing?  I don’t know, and the uncertainty of it, scares the shit out of me.  Giving up on writing would be the same as giving up on myself.  And at the end of the day, I have hope.  I still dream.  I still pray that one day I’ll have my own eight little words and the world will know my name.

Thank you for letting me share this journey with you.  I’d love to hear about your eight little words.

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