About a month ago, I went to a workshop on creativity and prayer, facilitated by Vinita Hampton Wright. I’d been reading Vinita’s latest novel, Dwelling Places, and I couldn’t wait to spend the day with her. I love that novel, sentence by sentence–the way it’s shaped, the story it tells. This woman has something to teach me, I thought, reading it. And Vinita did. She led us through thoughtful, prayerful writing exercises that sent me, at least, to dwelling places I hadn’t visited in a while.
And Vinita shared a bit from her own writing life. She revealed that it took her five years to write Dwelling Places. At the time, she believed it probably would never be published. She thought of it as five years of practice.
I took comfort in this.
It took me about four years to write my first novel, Dream Journal, and I have several novels tucked away on shelves and in drawers–practice, all, and years spent writing, now gathering dust, it would seem at first glance. And I just finished a novel, Gold Star Girl, that I’m hoping will see the light of day. But if it doesn’t? Will they be worth it–those three years I spent working on Gold Star Girl, researching the most recent war in Iraq and deciphering what I believe is my story to tell about that, and about forgiveness.
I have to, have to, believe that yes, the process is all, the process is everything. I am a stronger writer, a stronger person for having spent so much time and energy and emotion and, yes, sleep (dear, sweet, allusive sleep) on a project like this book. Practice, practice, practice, my parents always said to me about the piano. And I DIDN’T, and now I DON’T really play the piano. I miss it, the playing. It’s like a little death. But writing–that I will keep alive, and the only way I will keep it alive is to keep up the practice. Keep the faith.
But, in light of everything I just wrote, I want to add: the pent up energy of all those months of putting one word in front of the other, of plugging along, left me pretty tightly wound this spring. I didn’t want to practice so much, as make a mess–and maybe that’s a kind of practice, too? Forget the perfect scales and triads? Improvise! So . . . in late March I started a new book, a middle-grade novel. I ripped through a first draft and am left with a royal mess. I practiced imperfection. There are ghosts. There is a seer. There is the potential for more magic than a rabbit in a hat. I have been so bound to getting the real world exactly right—getting an experience of war right—it’s been feeling great to careen about in the great unknown of fantasy.
So here I am with a 152 page mess tentatively called Echo Lake. Starting a second draft, putting one word in front of another, practicing it all again.