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Where Authors Live on Clouds and Sip Pomegranate Cocktails

There was something I found comforting when I was feeling intimidated at Yaddo and, for that matter, the Writers Room where I go to write now that I’m home again: Every day, no matter who you are and how many brilliant books you’ve given the world, you and I, we both begin at the same place. We all—every single one of us, even those with Printzes and Pulitzers—have to start at a blank page.

Knowing that helped me confront my own blank pages. It’s not easy. It’s not easy for any of us. And why should it be? So I’m returning to that wisdom now when I’m sifting through all the pages I have and working to make them better.

It’s comforting for me to think how even the best writers don’t have their stories come out perfect at the get-go. Their words are revised. They, too, need to rethink. They need to readdress. They very well may need to take notes and notes and notes of ideas for ways to make their novel better, like I’m doing now. It is possible that they, too, wander the aisles of their local supermarket questioning their successes and their abilities and when they see a lumpy, scarred orange roll on the floor under the vegetable stand, they feel a deep connection to that orange because it may look dirty and messed-up on the outside, but maybe it tastes good on the inside. Maybe it’s better than you think. Maybe no one in the entire supermarket knows how good it could be (if it went home, and sat at its desk, and tried harder).

Um, yeah. And I don’t even like oranges.

Or maybe real authors don’t wander supermarket aisles questioning their worth. Maybe there’s a pillowy cloud in the sky where the successful, searingly brilliant writers go to celebrate their success and searing brilliance. They have pomegranate cocktails up there, don’t they? Maybe when they write up on their comfy clouds, plot flows out perfectly formed from their fountain pens. Their stories move at great speed and show no cracks. They learned how to write a good book a long time ago and now it’s way too easy so they play table tennis all day instead.

Maybe if we look up into the clouds, we can see their toes dangling as they lounge about, taking their writing naps.

I say, don’t look.

I say—to myself, not to you, unless you feel like listening—let’s not bother with looking at everyone else.

When I was a teenager, like 14 or 15, someone once found my diary where I had confessed to wanting to be a published author. This someone scrawled at the bottom of the page for me to discover later these words that have followed me around all my life:

“Why would anyone want to read what you write?”

Why indeed.

So I’m up on my low-flying cloud (fine—I’m sitting in a squeaky chair), sipping water because I don’t see any pomegranate cocktail, thinking of ways to make my novel better. Now, if only there were someplace to take a break and play some table tennis… I’m terrible at it, but guess what? I still try. And, sometimes, I surprise myself and I’m better than I think.

11 thoughts on “Where Authors Live on Clouds and Sip Pomegranate Cocktails

  1. also, i wonder if you and i could get a guest pass to sit on a high cloud and sip pomegranate cocktails. it would be nice to get a taste of that, wouldn’t it?

  2. I think when artists stop questioning their work, there’s a problem. Props to you for sitting in the chair, facing the page. You’re doing what a lot of people dream about and say they’ll do, but it never comes to fruition. Just doing that takes guts.

  3. “It’s comforting for me to think how even the best writers don’t have their stories come out perfect at the get-go…”

    i don’t know writer on this planet who is so supremely confident in his or her abilities that nothing they ever put to paper is bad (well, except zadie smith, but she’s an unpleasant egomaniac, anyway). even the greatest writers are plagued by self-doubt (or worse) at one time or another. in fact, i would gather that supreme self-confidence is one of the worst traits a writer can have–think you’ve got it made, and you stop trying.

    there’s a great book in which first drafts of famous fictions are put side by side with final versions. and it isn’t pretty. faulkner, philip roth, virginia woolf, and many others wrote some pretty putrid stuff the first time they went about it.

    and a family member a) tooled around in your diary and b) had the chutzpah to write that? i bet it was an evil older brother, such as i was.

    • Thanks for this. I really don’t want to be an unpleasant egomaniac, so I guess I’ll pick crippling insecurity over that any day. Well… maybe not CRIPPLING insecurity. Maybe just insecurity that makes me limp a little. It’s always good to be humbled, I think.

      And thanks for being kind about my teenage diary. I’m afraid I’m the oldest, so I don’t have an older brother, evil or kind. Clearly, I’m still carrying around all my old angst!

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