Although I am always alone when I work, I look upon everything I write as I would a relationship. A novel, in particular, is like a marriage. All marriages have their challenges, chief among them duration. A passionate weekend can come and go with little turbulence, the sheer velocity of new attraction propelling one straight over the bumps. But marriage quickly becomes about your whole life and its long bumpy trajectory, during which one must forgive and be forgiven, admit to weaknesses, release vices, change habits. A marriage can no more sustain its participants’ stagnation than can a life itself. So too with a novel. You might get lucky and dash off a poem over a weekend, or find a short story that “writes itself”, but a novel requires the same loving endurance of a marriage. You will lose your way. You will wonder where it’s going. You will wake up some mornings with no idea if the thing will ever be finished. Just as in a marriage, where we stray from our better selves and let the cutting remark slip, forget to listen, grow impatient, so we stray from our story, try to force scenes it doesn’t want, criticize it before it’s finished.
Though showing kindness always feels better than criticizing, and being truly inside your story always feels better than standing outside and judging it, the challenge to release the hurt that brought the criticism, or the fear that spurned the judgment, remains great enough that it cannot be achieved consistently without love. We simply cannot pay attention to something for that long that we do not love. We will lose interest. This is how bad marriages are born and how bad books are written: conceived without love, drawn by some idea of what we hope will bring us happiness, as opposed to operating within what we know already can.
This is why we write what we know, which is another way of saying write what you love. When we feel strongly attracted to a partner, we feel compelled as if by something beyond ourselves, a force of forward energy we need only follow, not generate. When we are strongly attracted to a story, we are following much the same energy, and we will remark how characters talk to us, how scenes appear to us, and of how we lost track of time as we wrote. True love and true creative energy are one in the same, because to love is to create and to create is to love.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.