Last night, at a Christmas party, at least ten people asked me how the book is going. How’s the book going? Are you still working on that book? How far along are you? Do you have a deadline? I wish I could carry around a series of small, laminated index cards, printed with my answers. I would pull them out of my jeans pocket, one by one, hand them to the well-meaning party guests with a smile: It’s going. I’m working on it. Every day. I’m about halfway through. Yes, I have a deadline. No, I don’t know when I’ll be done. Presumably by the deadline. Yes indeed, that would be a good idea.
There are only a few things to say when in the middle of the book, and all of them feel boring, or like lies. A high school intern wanted to work with me last year, so that she could learn something about the life of a writer. I couldn’t imagine what she could learn from watching me sit in my desk chair, staring into space; occasionally stretching and letting out a big sigh; drinking far too many cappuccinos. The thing is, writing a book–at least the kinds of books I write and like to read–is a painstakingly slow process. In the beginning, there is nothing. For a long time, there are a few pages. Eventually there’s a pile of pages, as I have now, next to my computer. It looks like a book-length manuscript, but it’s nowhere near finished. Some days, I like it okay. Other days, I am plagued by insecurity and doubt. There is no in between. No gray area whatsoever. Yesterday I wrote a page and a half. The day before yesterday, I wrote half a page. These few pages took me all day. Lately, I feel like a woodworker. The written word on the page is the wood. It’s only the beginning. Once I have the wood, the material itself, I begin to whittle. I chip away a bit here, a bit there. I turn it this way and that, until it assumes its proper shape. Sometimes it doesn’t ever assume its proper shape, and into the dust bin it goes. There are days when nothing happens. Days when it feels to me that nothing ever will. Days when my brain is on fire. Days when I am surrounded by a fog and nothing gets in or out. Still, I whittle.