On September 25 of this year I began the twenty-third chapter of my work in progress. I had a feeling then that there was a chance it might be a tough one. It was not the first such chapter in recent history. In the second book of my Cleanup Crew series, The Count of Carolina, there was a chapter that was so difficult for me it took ten days to complete. It was terrible. Not long after I was talking to a friend about it and I said that for the first time in a while the act of writing felt like work.
Oh, I hear you. “Poor baby! Did you hurt your smigigi?” The I hear you start singing that old Dire Straits song – “Maybe get a blister on your little finger. Maybe get a blister on your thumb.” I get it. I also really liked that video, you know back when the “M” in MTV was not ironic? But yeah, you’d think the best day in a ditch is going to be way worse than the poorest day of a writing gig.
Well, I’ve done both, and I am telling you that eight to twelve hours of physical labor will wipe you out. It will leave you spent. But almost always when I had left it all on the job, that total drain had a very satisfying undercurrent.
The worst day of writing leaves me every bit as drained as the toughest day in the boiler room. Aches and pains included. But the main difference was the absence of that undercurrent. Instead of a somewhat vague satisfaction there was a very specific feeling. It was a feeling of being unclean.
The topic I had to write about to make my character real, to make her who she had become, was very personal to me and very triggering. (I received a very critical review from a reader who was similarly triggered and never had the chance to explain the place that story came from.) I could only write a very few words a day before I had to walk away. Some days I sat staring at the monitor and was able to write nothing at all.
It was a week after I’d finished that chapter that I finally felt I was free of it. So if you ask me, I’d tell you the worst day in the ditch gets washed off a lot more easily than the worst day of writing.
The chapter that I started on September 25 was completed today. Eighteen days. It took almost three weeks to write this.
Now, I don’t want you to worry. This was different. The writing itself was tough. It was the culmination of the bad stuff that had run through the entire story. But it was also the first day of the character’s personal rebuilding. So it was both extremes in one really long chapter. To the tune of over 7000 words. There was no way around it. It had to be gotten through.
And if I’m being honest, I don’t even know what I’m hoping to achieve with this post. Am I trying to explain an aspect of the craft of writing that many people don’t talk about? Or am I just feeling sorry for myself? Am I whining?
Little bit of both, I suppose.