I’ve been away. And for good reason. I’ve been writing, not quite every day but almost. All those strands of thought I’ve spent the past two-plus years collecting are weaving together into an imitation of an honest-to-god manuscript.
At present, I’ve got exactly 27,766 words. If we’re being technical, I’ve got about a bazillion more words than that, but 27,766 is the number of words that fall in order, one after another, into sentences and paragraphs and pages. In Microsoft Word terms, that’s about eighty double-spaced pages. And while I’m happy, thrilled even, about this sense of forward progress, the evolution of a bunch of disparate passages into a single, coherent thing brings its own unexpected anxieties.
Mostly, I worry about being a woman writing about love. I try hard to be smart and unsentimental, to be honest in a way that occasionally makes me uncomfortable. But I sometimes wonder about being dismissed as a girl who’s writing for other girls about their favorite girly subject. I am well aware of how writing anything that falls within the sphere of domesticity (or, even worse, romance) can relegate a women to the genre of chick-memoir or win her the label of myopic navel gazer.
And I worry about how slowly I write. I have, more than once, spent hours on a just few sentences. I’ve had the idea of this book for four years now, and have been writing it for at least two and a half. I try to think of Marilynne Robinson, who published her first novel (the truly excellent Housekeeping, which you must read if you are at all interested sentences) in 1980, and her second, which won the Pulitzer Prize, nearly twenty-five years later in 2004. In fact, each of her three novels has won a major book prize. She is not prolific, but profound, I tell myself.
Once I’ve got that Pulitzer nomination under my belt, I too can be less anxious about tangible productivity. For now, though, I am my usual, cautious self. I do not trust my sentences. I third- and fourth-guess them. It is better, I think, to trust in the writing process (that is, showing up at the computer every day for as much time as I can manage) than to trust in my own words. If you think something is good, give it a couple weeks. Things change.
An odd by-product of being cautious in writing about love, and of training yourself to doubt your initial instincts, to let them sit awhile before acting on them, is that you may also become doubtful of your instincts when it comes to love itself. Continue reading