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The Good Old Days

I’m about calf-deep in the freelance book due May 1 and after a break for lunch and more caffeine in the hopes that I can slog on in up to my knees, I see another writer typing madly away at her laptop. She has that fire where you can’t see anything or anyone around you. Her fingers are too slow for her brain. I know she’ll be typing away like that until her hands spasm from exhaustion, until her neck burns, or until the ideas fizzle away, whichever comes first. I knew it, just by watching her, that she was writing something she loved. She had to write it, whatever it was. There was nothing else she could do but write it.

I am envious of her.

To write on assignment, I plop myself down at a table or a desk and force myself to attend to a scene. I have already outlined the scene, sometimes in great detail, and that outline sits just beside me, each scene waiting to be crossed out as done. They come out slowly, sometimes they are stiff dead things on the page and I just tell myself I’ll go back later and spruce them up. There is no love in this process. Maybe sometimes I get excited, I get to a scene that feels like something that belongs to me and I pump it up and my fingers move quickly and . . . in reality, that will probably be a scene cut later, once the editors see the whole draft. I’m a surrogate. The book I’m writing is not mine right now; it won’t ever be.

It’s nothing like that other writer. I hear her still, typing away.

A long time ago — it may not be so long in years or, in fact, months, but it feels an eternity ago — I had that feeling she’s having now. Something was in me and I had to get it out, and I loved every word on that page, every single goddamn one, I was so happy to have them out there. Sometimes the words were so perfect I thought I could never show another living soul, because surely other people wouldn’t see what I saw in the words I’d written, they’d deflate and crumble and all their flaws would show. They’d ruin it for me, other people reading what I wrote. A long time ago, it was enough just to have written it. I was innocent, hopeful, so excited I could have kept typing away at the pages for 48 hours straight if I didn’t have to stop to eat or sleep. The process was all that mattered then, not the chase for the elusive book deal that has already run me over flat at least five times already this year.

Remember that?

I miss those days.