A few weeks ago, I made a mistake that cost me. It was maybe the first great piece of advice I ever received about writing: get it all down before you realize it stinks. My mentor, as you might imagine, is a bit of a cynic. And while I always believed him, I found out that he was right. I had a story that I was pretty excited about going. I might have mentioned also that it was not without its problems. But I was working. And then I stopped, because I realized it stunk. It's the first time in a long time that that's happened, and something of mine imploded, sort of like one of those whimpering cakes that fail to rise, or more appropriately, rise and then sort of flatten, dejected. It was a cornerstone of my very early years in story telling that I'd spin off yarns that were not endless so much as leading to a frayed edge that bespoke of the greater tapestry being woefully incomplete.
However, last week I went out with a friend from the writer's group to a Borders of all places, committed to do some writing. I did not try to revivify the corpse of the story that I just mentioned, though. I took a step forward and worked on something else. It was an interesting experience, typing away at a laptop with my ear plugs in, doing my best impression of a quiet, unknown artist "in the zone." And it's true, there were points where I forgot about how uncomfortable the chair was, or the conversation of the people the next table over, the smell of the coffee, the distracting movements of passers-by. I was there with my friend for some hours, and there were long spans where I was just tunneling through the white space of the page with only my fingers. It was interesting, though I did come away a bit exhausted. Typically, I write in my room with the lights off, the door closed, and no sound about me save for my computer's preternaturally loud cooling fans. I peck-peck-peck away and emerge some hours later with no one the wiser as to what I was doing, not unlike a prisoner mining in secret, one teaspoon of freedom at a time. So I guess you could call writing among someone else's writing a change of pace.
Although I cannot say that I'll make it a regular thing, it was a nice experience. In the past, I've actually forced myself to type in situations where I normally wouldn't, sort of as a test, almost just to prove that I could do it. This experience was less painful, and probably more rewarding. I got 4500 words drafted and the story is complete enough for me to begin chipping away at it, or layering where needed. I hope to use a new schedule to make regular advances in my short story writing, and the beginnings of the novel which I swore (secretly) to myself that I'd have have submitted by Thanksgiving (that, too, is a lie. While I didn't have an exact date, I was a bit surprised that I hadn't done any writing at all, and it being mid October). It was a bit surreal when I re-re-realized that the only progress that would be made on my writing would be affected by the progress I created with my own hands.
As a bit of a sidebar, I peeked into the chatter that is constantly flitting to and fro on the groups I belong to at those publishers. Some writer posted some sort of a monologue about her tenacity, citing some large, double-digit amount of books she has writing, waiting to be published, and shaking her fist at all the agents that passed up on the potential millions her work would yield. I was given pause, because of course I'm at a bit of a crossroads myself, making palpable forward progress very slowly and not steadily at all. I'm very confident, but that ambition was shaken considerably when I thought about being someone who had become that embittered. It was a bit like watching an old buck die in the forest, but not from predators or hunters, but age, like he had been running around lost his whole life and finally, time became too heavy a rider. I do feel a bit of pride, and joy, that I'm able to commit to taking steps forward despite that possible, and horrible, future. But it's a very quiet, very small elation.