Yesterday morning I spent the better part of an hour untangling a set of wind chimes that Jacob had brought home from school. They had become impossibly tangled, the clear plastic threads all knotted up. I told myself to be patient. Slowly I tried to unknot the half-dozen threads that had wound themselves around and around each other. In the end, I gave up. I cut the threads, undid the knots, re-attached the moons and stars, and–voila–less than perfect but nonetheless serviceable wind chimes, which are now dangling from our tree out back.
As I was working on the wind chimes, I thought about writers. In particular, I thought about myself, and my friends. How is it that the world’s most impatient people choose to spend their lives doing something a bit like pulling apart clear plastic, nearly invisible bits of thread? Cutting, re-tying, when all else fails? I could recount for you the history of each of my books. The way, in Picturing the Wreck, I wound up with a six hundred page draft that I had to re-imagine and re-structure until it was a lean, mean three-hundred. The way, when I walked into my editor’s office after she read that first draft, she held it–the whole massive pile of it–in her hands, as if weighing it, and said: “Can you believe you wrote all this?” I didn’t hurl myself out the window. I do vaguely remember standing at a pay phone afterward (this was 1995) and crying to a friend. How was I ever going to do what needed to be done?
I do think that writing books is a bit like having babies. Once finished, the experience sort of wipes itself out, so that eventually you can consider the lunacy of doing it again. Once a book is finished, truly finished and I’m holding it in my hands, I can’t for the life of me imagine how I ever wrote it. It’s almost as if the experience of the writing itself happened in fugue state. How did I figure it out? How did I put it together? How will I ever do it again? You’d think, after six books, I’d have a bit more confidence in the process, but the fact is that my own impatience gets in my way. I don’t want it to be a process–even though I can talk until I’m blue in the face about how it is a process. I want to blink and be done. I know, one day, I will hold a copy of my new book in my hands and have no idea how I did it. But right now, on a gloomy Monday morning, I know that it involves a daily triumph over my own impatience, and a willingness to untangle the threads.