For me, it always starts in dreams. My unconscious mind — my mate, my man, my Muse — bridges the gap between waking and sleeping thought to show me a grain of story.
I could say we build it together in the friction between us, the way that an oyster’s secretions build a pearl — but that is not so. It’s more that the very tip tail-bone of some fantastic fossilized creature has been exposed to the air by the vagaries of a storm in the soul and he discloses it to me.
Here, he says. Let’s dig here and see what we shall find.
His word and his will are my law; I deny him at peril of my sanity. So I dig.
The object of this exercise — of writing — is to unearth every single particle that may contain the story. This is an ecstasy of excess; every thought and word and deed is to be captured, in case it is relevant.
I dig like a woman possessed, every spare and waking moment. At the worst times it is grim and nearly joyless, through compacted soil and gravel almost rock-hard, producing what seems at the time little of merit.
Oh, but in the best times… I dig out loose loam with my bare hands almost without effort, disclosing the outlines of the tremendous idea buried in my head.
Dig and dig and dig, until it is all out — every drip and dram. Every particle that might be story. At the end I stand for a moment on this broken hillside with the Muse and celebrate the new life of the unearthed fossil.
Then box it all up and ship it away, to the white room across oceans of time, days and weeks — where an even harder job awaits me.
If writing could be as joyous and sensual as the act of procreation — which I’ve found to be — the editing is as tedious and frustrating as trying to raise the resulting child. In writing the goal is to capture all the things that *may* be story; in editing one is to carefully remove, with ever smaller chisels and brushes, all the things that are *not* the story.
Dear Mark: I just finished the first round edits on my first novel, and cleaned it up enough to pass out to about twelve beta readers. They are crawling over the bones of the fossil now, piping up questions, removing debris, commenting on form. Their suggestions and a final round of style editing will be the little painters brushes that I use to sweep away the remaining matrix and free the story to be itself.
Here, I sigh. It’s been a long time since I wrote to you, Mark; I was too busy making love to the Muse… and I’m about to start again.
After the editing of this novel is over comes the publishing, which I’m sure will be as nerve-wracking and irritating as preparing progeny for and shipping them off to college.
I do still think of you, although time remains dividing us. I build to bridge the gap, however. I am more myself now than ever before.
I sign myself once more: