Important Things

I've had a bad few days. Last week, I was stuck on a scene (that I have finally figured out--I think), and was in one of those trying places we can get to as writers. I'm sure you know the feeling. At least please tell me I'm not the only one. It's that place where just because one scene is failing we think the rest of our writing is doomed, and then we go surfing the net and reading people's opinions on writing and start measuring everything against what the editors and agents are saying.

Last week it was Moonrat's blog on the present tense and why it doesn't usually work for novels. As great as that post is, it gave me that awful feeling at the pit of my stomach, because almost my entire novel is written in the present tense. The irony is that before this book, I had never written in the omniscient voice and also never written fiction in present tense. But the voice for this novel came out that way, and I went with it. And out of the 13 people who have read and commented to the novel so far, not a single person has even mentioned the tense. It was one of those things I never even thought about--until that post.

But while I was in the middle of freaking out about all this and feeling doomed with the novel, my writing, and my entire life, something happened. Something that put everything else into perspective. I was sitting in the adjunct office at school, almost literally beating my head against the desk, and my best male friend called. I picked up the phone, thinking he was having some sort of amazing psychic prediction (it's happened before with us).

"Thank God you called," I said. "I was just in the middle of an argument with myself."
"Hey, I'm at Memorial Hospital. My mother's dead."

My mother's dead. As the weight of that sentence began to sink into me, I struggled to listen. I struggled to get my head around what he was saying, although it became suddenly hard to focus. I could hear people in the background moving around, bits and snatches of voices. I heard his father saying something.

"I want you and Mark to come to the funeral."
"Of course. Of course. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."

As we sat there together, on opposite sides of the call, neither of us saying much, the weight sank and sifted. It filled the space around us.

"How are you? Do you need me to meet you there?"
"I don't know. It's been fifteen minutes." Fifteen minutes. Just moments since that life let go. Fifteen minutes since a wife left her husband, and a mother slipped away from her 34-year-old son. When we ended the call, I got on my knees and wept.

Surely our writing is important. But surely there are more important things.

Comments

Novabella said…
Hi Kathryn, I liked this post a lot. As you know I had a similar wakeup call a couple of years ago when I lost both my parents within 6 months. My work is an important part of my life, but it is NOT my whole life. Any problems I deal with now still seem very small in comparison.
Excellent post. I'm so sorry for your friend's family and wish them peace.

Every once in a while life comes along and gives us one of those swift kicks that puts everything else into perspective. Novabella's right in reminding us that important as it is to us, writing is just a part of our lives.

I also totally believe that you can attend to many classes and conferences or read too many how tos, blogs, and articles. When they start to get in the way of the unfolding story, it's time to pull back.

So no more trolling for reasons to doubt yourself, Kathryn. It's a form of perfectionism, which is a form of resistance, which is a way of protecting oneself from the moment of truth, the one where you finally pull the trigger and submit to the risk and possibilities inherent in the journey.

And btw, Moonrat's right. Present tense, when poorly done, jerks a reader out of the story. But when it's right for the story, it's absolute perfection. Immediate, fresh, and totally compelling. I have faith that yours will fall into the latter category. Hang in there until you prove me right! :)
Excellent post. I'm so sorry for your friend's family and wish them peace.

Every once in a while life comes along and gives us one of those swift kicks that puts everything else into perspective. Novabella's right in reminding us that important as it is to us, writing is just a part of our lives.

I also totally believe that you can attend to many classes and conferences or read too many how tos, blogs, and articles. When they start to get in the way of the unfolding story, it's time to pull back.

So no more trolling for reasons to doubt yourself, Kathryn. It's a form of perfectionism, which is a form of resistance, which is a way of protecting oneself from the moment of truth, the one where you finally pull the trigger and submit to the risk and possibilities inherent in the journey.

And btw, Moonrat's right. Present tense, when poorly done, jerks a reader out of the story. But when it's right for the story, it's absolute perfection. Immediate, fresh, and totally compelling. I have faith that yours will fall into the latter category. Hang in there until you prove me right! :)
jeanna Thornton said…
Kath, its so easy to doubt...harder to believe and yet sometimes impossible to trust. But I know your instincts are good...that much I have picked up from you. YOU know your tense is right or you wouldn't have written it ...remember this is *your* art.

Write it, my friend! jink
Mylène said…
I know your writing has worth and value. And so does your feeling about it in relation to your friend and some thing as great as death. It does you honor.

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