Lord, what fools these writers be!

When I was at O’Reilly editing tech books, I remember how exciting it was when a new project landed on my desk. That 500-800 page stack of papers, fastened with rubber bands, made the most satisfying thunk as it hit the Formica. I’d turn away from my computer screen, where I was putting the finishing touches on the previous project that I’d been staring at for weeks, and I’d snap off the elastics and thumb through the new manuscript, still warm from the printer and smelling of fresh ink.

My eyes would feel relief, skimming over the A-heads and sidebars, maybe getting a break from the previous project through the use of a different template or a smaller trim size. The pile of papers were still tidy and solid – not dogeared all over, not yet sullied by red pen marks or the accidental coffee spill. And I couldn’t wait to get started with it.

I would reluctantly turn back to the computer screen where my current project awaited, stitched up and duct taped together in all the places it had bled red ink at my hand. My eyes fatigued and wrists sore from repetitive stress, I’d scale the Everest in front of me, package it up and ship it off to the printer, until in due time, I was free to face my new mountain.

Now I’m experiencing this with my own writing. My novel is complete and slowly circulating through the inboxes of a few agents, and it’s time for me to begin amassing the next clean white, fresh-ink-smelling stack of papers.

I’m filtering through several ideas, as well as several anxieties. What makes me think I can do it again? After three attempts at writing a novel, the fourth comes out complete, and as weird as it sounds, it wasn’t that hard! Maybe I’m experiencing that thing some women get after they deliver a baby. They go through this hellacious experience that is probably the most trauma their bodies have ever been through, and a week later, they’re saying it wasn’t that bad. Because thinking like that is the only way they’ll ever convince themselves to do it again. I call it “mothers’ amnesia.” That’s what I’m feeling.

Should I not remind myself of that night back in November, in the thick of NaNoWriMo, when I pounded out 2000 words in one day after a week of 1700 word days, and Dave came in the room to find me rolled up in a ball with a tear or two escaping down my cheeks, whining, “Writing is haaard!”? Or all the self-doubt? Or not knowing what to call what I was doing, because “I’m writing a book” just sounds too pretentious and braggy?

Yeah, I’m thinking mothers’ amnesia is the way to go. Because another evolutionary tool we’ve inherited is the right to foolery. There are some things we want to do, we can do, and we do even though we can’t explain why. Some collect pretty seashells, some train for marathons. I string words together on a page, one word after another, until those words can be organized and rearranged and stacked into a neat pile of clean white paper, warm and smelling of fresh ink.



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