Showing Up

I have talked about “showing up” before. But here are some further–though rather scrambled–thoughts about it.

Being a writer–or any kind of artist–is essential a selfish activity. Note I don’t, as far too many people do, call it a “lonely” job. Maybe an alone job, but lonely? Not when I am surrounded by my invisible friends. Invisible to you, perhaps, but not to me. We converse, argue (I don’t always get my way), go rollicking down new roads, find adventures, weep together, pray together, pry together, get into all kinds of mischief, trouble, danger, and despair. Some of us make it to the other end of the road, but not all. Along the way I have killed my darlings, my best friends, my favorite pets, a high king or two, and the one no child reader has ever forgiven me for–a dragon named Heart’s Blood.

But I do this in the privacy of my own mind. And I can not nor will not let you in until I am done with it. And then it becomes not just my story, herstory, history–but YOUR story, too. And you dear reader, will take it even further than I ever could because you make it your own.

But none of this happens unless I, in the lone-ness of my own writing space show up, do my job, get it done.(It has just now occurred to me, after years of teaching Le Guin’s “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas” at Smith College that whatever else it is, the novelette is a metaphor for the writer in her cell.)

What does this mean in real time? That I am in a book a lot longer than you will ever be. You can read Devil’s Arithmetic in a day or over a week or maybe if you are slow it can take you a month. But I was stuck in it for a year and a half, in that hellhole called the Holocaust! You can buzz through Owl Moon in mere minutes. I worked on it consciously and subconsciously for fifteen years. You can sit down with Sword of the Rightful King, my Arthurian novel, and make it through successfully in a week or ten days if you savor it slowly. But for me, from the time I wrote it first as a short story to the completion of the novel was twenty years.

THAT’S what I mean about showing up. If you have the guts to do it.

And the time? Well no little time fairy is going to drop a package of it on you. You have to take time. Steal it by the bucketload from the rest of your life. Be selfish. Ignore lunching with friends until the work gets done.

Just write the damn book.