A Kind Mistress

Writing is such a relationship. Roald Dahl described how he would “sniff around an idea” before committing to it. By returning again and again on walks and the shower, or by taking notes, or perhaps scratching out a line or two of dialogue, a writer can see if his interest remains as strong as the day the idea first arrived. I have started many a story the day it first popped into my head. I would never suggest that one cannot finish a book begun this way. But you can also spend two months on something you discover wasn’t as enduringly interesting to you once you are slogging your way through the torturous middle. If the story, like a partner, is not something you love, it will end, just as many relationships end once the dishes aren’t done and the car breaks down.

But in a good marriage, not only are you willing to work together to see that the dishes get done and the car gets fixed, not only are you willing to find your way through the arguments these petty problems seem to stir, but, in time, you will likely find that the petty problems are as valuable to a marriage as sex and long conversation and romantic vacations. Within the slog of everyday life lived with someone you love you can uncover the divine, the lovely, and the meaning in absolutely everything.

So too is it with a story you love. Every story will become as tangled as a late night argument; every story will appear as hopeless and small as a flat tire. But if you love that story you will discover you have the patience to find your way through a tired middle, will have the discipline to discard an unnecessary character. Love is simply not a mistress you can quit. What you call quitting is only a search that will lead you back exactly where you started, where she will be waiting for you to start another story.

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