The Right Words

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Whenever I want a good laugh, I read this quote.  It never fails me.  I think we all hope that at some point, the writing process will become simple. We will sit at our desks in the morning, turn on our computers, crack our knuckles, let the words pour forth in an undammed stream, stop for a coffee break, return, and at the end of the day, have a lovely piece, whether it be a poem, a short story, a novel, an essay, a memoir…whatever we sat down that day to write. Effortless. Easy.  Off to bed for a good night’s sleep!

Except anyone who is a serious writer knows this isn’t the case.  It doesn’t get easier.  While practice can indeed make perfect in writing, you never get to the point where you can stop practicing.

I’ve been hard at work on the fourth draft of my new novel.  Every day, as I write, these calendar pages keep flipping over my shoulder.


2011: The Home For Wayward Clocks

2012: Enlarged Hearts

2013: Learning To Tell (A Life)Time


So will there be a book in 2014?


I mean, there IS a book.  The first draft was done quite a while ago, beginning to end, so it’s here, intact, in my computer and in my mind.  I am in draft four, and I like it and I hate it and I like it and I hate it.  One minute, I’m shoving my way to the front of the Writer Hall of Fame, the next, I’m plunking a dunce cap on my head and crawling into my dog’s time-out crate.

This is called the writing life.

The new book is called Rise From The River, and it’s a book I’ve wanted to write for twenty years, but I had to wait until I had the courage and the ability to make it say what I want to say. To make it sing.  Today, at my desk, the damn thing belted out the National Anthem without a single quaver.  Yesterday, it sounded more like a duck.  A drunk duck.

So it’s there.  It exists.  It more than exists.  It’s living and breathing and I tend to it every day. But I just don’t know if I’ll have it done in time to come out in 2014.

And the calendar pages go flap, flap, flap.

When I saw my publisher this past September, he said to me, “As long as you keep writing the books, I’ll keep publishing them.”  This, as you can imagine, was wonderful to hear.  It’s a load off my shoulders.  I am writing more freely than I have in years, if not in my whole life.  I am able to concentrate solely on the flow of words, and not on the always-there question of, “Will it fly?  Will someone like it enough to publish it?”  I no longer have to worry about that.  The book will have a home as soon as it’s out of my head.

My publisher has not put me under any pressure. I’m not expected to have a new book done by any particular time.  My readers pop in every now and then and say, “Hey, how’s the book coming?”  But they don’t pressure me either.  The other day, though, after I brought my 13-year old daughter home from school, I told her I was going upstairs to keep writing.

She said, “What are you working on?”

I said, “The new book.”

With her hands on her hips, she huffed and said, “Aren’t you done with that book YET?”  And she actually tapped her foot!

Since babyhood, that child has managed to blurt what I’m thinking.  And yes, it is my own impatience that makes those calendar pages snap at me.  It’s pressure that I’m putting on myself.  I’ve had three books out in three years.  Ohmygod, will the world end if I don’t have a fourth out in the fourth year?

A part of me thinks so.  Remember, writers have to have ego to get through the rejections.  My ego is very, very healthy.

But good writing takes time.  I tell my students this constantly.  It took me three years to write “The Home For Wayward Clocks,” six months of that under an editor’s guidance when I thought the book was already done.  It took two years to write “Enlarged Hearts.”  Another two years to write “Learning To Tell (A Life)Time”.  I began seriously writing “Rise From The River” a year ago today.

I have time. I have time. I have time. I have fifty bazillion clocks in this house; you would think I would have listened to them by now.

Good writing takes work. Lovely writing takes hard, hard work.  If it looks effortless, it’s not.  So much effort goes on behind the scenes. Practice makes perfect, and practice is never done.  There’s always the next day to do it again.  And the day after too.  I am a perfectionist with a capital P, and this book won’t be called done until I am willing to put my name on the cover.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

The right words will never be simple, Jack.  Never ever.

Will I have a book out in 2014?

We’ll see.