Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dragons at my Desk

Writing groups often jump start participants with prompts. Here’s a response I wrote a few years back to the prompt “dramatize what gets in the way of your writing.”
At least it fills the “dramatic” bill…hope you enjoy it.

Why, when I sit at my desk to write, do other tasks suddenly flood my mind with their seeming importance? Why didn’t I notice the drooping plant before I sat down? It’s a rare quiet day, a great opportunity and yet I recognize the familiar approach of the dragon of distraction. Dragons can be fought…“Today is the only day I’ve got,” I cry, as I wave my pen in the air.

I push the telephone and its temptation to the farthest edge of my desk and straighten an empty page. It was Saint Augustine who said, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance; but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.”
For uncounted moments I hear nothing but the steady scratching of my pen.

But small dragons come quietly and wait for their advantage. One perched rather near asks seemingly innocuous questions about the unpolished and incomplete state of my novel. It’s true; my manuscript is nothing more than a very rough draft. In the increasing heat of this critic’s breath, I grow weary but I know dragons can be fought. I remember a quip from Jane Smiley, her words glitter like a small shining shield. “Every first draft is perfect because all a first draft has to do is exist…”

With another of my dragons, if not vanquished, at least thwarted for the moment, I rustle my pile of unbound leaves, feeling content with the sheer number of pages, with their simple existence. They are safe from the flaming mouth that would have set them afire. My story exists, that’s enough for now. Polishing and completion will come. Why I’ve even got a little heat of my own. I feel content. The mountain of memory within me has heated and rumbled with creative tension and flowed forth like lava sending the dragons reeling back from the molten river’s flow.

But later, when I return to walk through the cooled written landscape, when the lava is but rock and ash, I find what seemed like the weight of tons inexplicably light and airy. It is but pumice dispersed over a bewildering terrain. I see how small and inconsequential the lumps that I am strong enough to pick up at any one time appear in the grand scheme. I myself can barely define a path through the landscape of my manuscript. I again grow aware of the heavy thumping that heralds the return of dragons.

“You’ve probably missed the point,” says a small sharp-tongued dragon.

“Or lost sight of the larger picture,” says another, circling about the cooling valley of my manuscript. “And what will it matter, anyway?”

I look down at my small hands and realize what sharp stuff it is that I am handling, how it can tear at my flesh, and suddenly it seems very inadvisable to go on, barefoot as I am. Perhaps the heat of my creativity has produced nothing but dust and rubble. I know, as Andrew Jackson advised, I shouldn’t take counsel from my fear.

But I retreat from the pen. I pick up a book, For Writer’s Only by Sophy Burnham, an annotated compilation of the angst, struggles and advice of many authors. I read John’s Hersey’s comment, “To be a writer is to throw away a good deal...” Hey, if that’s the criteria, I’m well on my way. And as I laugh at myself, the struggle is over for a while; what kind of self-respecting dragon would want to hang around and pick on a writer like me? ~~~~~


Daria said...

The dragons, aka monsters, sit on visual artist's shoulders as well. A good friend once told me to give my monster a cookie and send him to the closet. Sometimes the monster behaves, but he's a crafty fellow, like my cat, and streaks into the room if i so much as crack the closet door.

I can sometimes make peace when I tell the monster I only have a few hours and no guarantee of tomorrow could he please just cut me a break. As you can see I do a lot of begging. Listening to John Fogerty seems to quiet the monster.

The monster is at his most treacherous when I bring out some finished works- he just goes to town with his nasty critiques- but sometimes he is dead on.

It was a lovely walk in the brisk wind today wasn't it.

Krappy Genius said...

"But later, when I return to walk through the cooled written landscape, when the lava is but rock and ash, I find what seemed like the weight of tons inexplicably light and airy. It is but pumice dispersed over a bewildering terrain"

I love this part ... how very often you realize what you have written is different from what you set out to do. You have a tangled web of thoughts in your head that you think add weight to what you are trying to tell and yet when you have told what you want to, it still feels so inconsequential

Gretchen Joanna said...

I absolutely love this. The glittering shield of the first draft is a lovely metaphor, which I am feeling comfort in myself at the moment. But, seemingly more potently, I see the gushings of my mind as a bleak and chaotic landscape of cooled lava. Thank you for sharing!!