Last night, a friend of mine wrote on the writers blog "Boxing the Octopus" of her struggle with her stubbornly unfinished book. Her post, here, is definitely worth a read. After very cogentIy summing up the flaw near the beginning of her manuscript, and honestly describing her tears of dismay, she wrote:
"I want to fix it. But for the life of me, I can't figure out how. I can't figure out how to organize that material, and I can't figure out which parts of the subplots to develop, and how to develop them without detracting from the main plot. Today I sat with what I think could be a gem of a manuscript, but there's just that one big flaw. There are other smaller problems throughout, of course, but that's the major problem. 5 out of 33 chapters. That's it--but because it's near the beginning of the novel, it's everything . . . I will come back and get the index cards. I will read and comment on student fiction and work yet again on my own. I will do what I've done before, so many times--I will map this out, and I will be ruthless. That's what I will do tomorrow. But tonight I am in tears."
My heart went out. This is a familiar pain. This is not unprecedented struggle. And yet it is unique for all that. We face our work the way we face the arc of our lives. Alone. Discrete.
But not without sympathy. Never without sympathy.
The best response I could come up with:
"By now you will have dried your tears, and I hope will hear me when I tell you that that was one of the most lucid analyses of one's own work I have ever read. It takes talent not just to write, but to know when something isn't good enough. It takes courage not to let it slide. It takes heart for it to mean so much to you that you weep in the quest for mastery. It takes insight to parse the problem and grope toward the solution. You have all of these. You are almost there.
"Remember that the frustration you are feeling right now is not ordinary, and that is why it is intense. It is what the choreographer Martha Graham calls 'divine dissatisfaction.' You are trying to make something that is fit and meet--something that refuses to shuffle and be pedestrian. This connects you and your struggle to all the angels of better creation. It would be easier just to let those chapters stumble inadequately along. But you refuse to. And therein lies your gift.
"This thought doesn't necessarily make it any easier while you're struggling, I know. But whenever I reach the same kind of impasse, I remember Graham. I may feel lost, groveling, lowly. But this is an error in my perception. I am dancing. I am burning with the same hectic fire as the stars. And eventually we burn our way through.
Causes Mylene Dressler Supports
The Women's Media Center