Creative discomfort. I’m in the throes right now. I am sitting with problems yet unsolved within in a book partially written, and it’s agonizing, I’ll admit. But it is also part of the process — no, it’s critical to the process — and the book I want to write cannot be completed without the discomfort, the discordances, the anxiety, the wish to be done with it combined with the knowledge that only patience will bring relief.
It’s been an intense writing week, in an intense writing month, as I lay down the bones and structure for this book begun many months ago. I’m desperate to finish building an arc from end to end. I’m close. But I can’t guess how close. Am I days, weeks, or still many months from creating a solid first draft? I imagine myself, with a pleasantly whole (if drafty) draft completed, marching back through these rooms to carve all the fancy parts, the elaborations, to paint the walls, and fill the closets, and scatter things on the floor. To make messy and lived-in what is yet quite bare and sparse. This book feels like a house. Which makes perfect sense because it is, in part, inspired by a house I once lived in.
I sometimes say that The Juliet Stories took six years to write, but it would be more accurate to say that The Juliet Stories took six years to get right. The actual writing of the actual stories in the finished book came in bursts and jags. Some required much rewriting. All needed polishing. Some of the best came quickly and suddenly from nowhere I could have imagined before sitting down and discovering them.
The whole of it looked messy and incomplete for a very very very long time.
How to live in a messy and incomplete house? A house that hasn’t got a roof yet, but that is already ghosted by characters? They wander too, wondering what I’ll build for them, wondering where I’ll arrange them, and why.
On Wednesday, the little kids and I finished reading Little House in the Big Woods. So last night we moved on to Little House on the Prairie. The Big Woods have become too crowded and busy for Pa’s liking. The little path in front of their log house is almost a road, now, and almost every day Mary and Laura stop their play to watch with surprise as a wagon passes by. One wagon a day is too many for Pa. So he builds his own wagon, and as Ma “does not object,” the family says goodbye to the little house in the big woods of Wisconsin and sets off for the less-populated West.
CJ was almost in tears at the loss of the cozy little house. Would Mary and Laura ever see their grandma and grandpa and aunts and uncles again? (I think the answer is: no.) He couldn’t bear the thought. And I felt the pain, too, as if it were happening to us: the early dark of a March morning, the goodbyes of family, the emptied house which can’t see them go because its windows are shuttered.
They never saw that little house again, writes Laura.
What do I hold onto? Why? What do I think I could not bear to let go of? How rooted is our family, here? We feel so very rooted, such a goodbye seems impossible to imagine.
I just finished reading Alison Pick’s Far to Go, which I highly recommend. It ends with a reflection on how swiftly the world we think we know can fall to pieces. I don’t know whether it is this present state of creative discomfort, or this dark season before the coming of the solstice, but right now I am keenly attuned to the off-kilterness in our larger world with too many sadnesses and wrongs to list here, except to say that so many of them seem caused by greed, and by the hunger of the now.