Guest Blogger: Editor and Writer Gabrielle Lee

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 The Writing Process: The War

OR: Masochism and You

by Gabrielle Lee

I spend a lot of time staring at incomplete things.  Mostly incomplete Word documents.  I’m very well acquainted with the Ctrl+S command, which I do compulsively as I watch the cursor blink at me, and blink again, and blink again, chanting, write, write, write—WRITE, you lazy nincompoop, stop letting your eyes drift to the dark-gray background bordering empty whiteness, don’t you even think about letting your fingers touch that trackpad because you know that if you do, you’ll be on Facebook in five seconds.  Or you’ll end up on the Sims, doing virtual chores with a better-looking version of yourself while last night’s dishes sit behind you in your very-real sink.  Or worse, you’ll start making lists of jobs to apply to again, jobs who won’t consider you until you have a degree anyway which you won’t have until you put more words down on that virtual page so write, write, write.

But I stare at the page.  I think about the story that could appear, the Great American Novel that I will someday write, and the more I practice the more I can feel the energy and motivation under my fingers, I can see the end more clearly, my confidence builds so that it’s not a question of if I will finish this book but when I will finish it.  Ctrl+S, for the last time now, here I go, I’m about to write that next sentence, I’m inspired now—

And then I stop.  Because even (when, if) I finish this chapter, I will have to revise it.  And then after that revision, my thesis advisor will have plenty more notes for me, and then I’ll make a new revision.  And then I’ll have to make a new one, and then a new one, and then (Ctrl+S) maybe then I’ll be able to send out queries (which I’ll also have to write (Ctrl+S)), and then I’ll have to push through (Ctrl+S) mountains of those (Ctrl+S) and (Ctrl+S Ctrl+S Ctrl+S)

and then I’m out of steam.  Because when I think about it, I’ve got eight thousand steps between now and a pipe dream.  So I eat some chocolate, which is pretty much the worst thing ever since I know very well that I haven’t exercised for two weeks, and I would now except that my knee hurts and I’m tired anyway and it’s 8:52 at night, my downstairs neighbors won’t like it so I’ll just sit here and eat another Lindt truffle and who the hell bought me these truffles anyway, who would be that cruel, I wonder, hand now on the trackpad and moving my cursor toward The Sims 3.

My husband walks into the kitchen and gets a glance at my screen and gives me a look.

“No, see, ’cause I’m visualizing it, right?  I’m making a virtual replica of the houses in my book.”

My husband, who is smarter than that, says “mm” and grabs his water and walks back to his office.

And I, in an effort to not be completely bullshitting the both of us, actually do try to make that replica.  Until I realize that I got the floorplan wrong and remember that I’m not actually an architect and that my training is in dance and creative writing and whoever thought to make majors for those things, anyway?  Who was the cruel mogul who created the super-enticing brochure to make me go to school for not one but two creative fields, filling my naïve little brain with falsehoods such as you could find a career from this! and you might actually make money! with those attractive, beaming artists who have CLEARLY never stared at a blank Word document in their lives?

Probably the same guy who designed the Microsoft Word 2007 interface.

Jerk.

The worst part is that this rant doesn’t even solve my problems.  I am still staring at the incomplete Word doc.  Ctrl+S, in case something happens to my laptop while I’m asleep.  Or while I’m doing the dishes.

And of course.  Of course that’s when I get the idea for the BEST LINE EVER ®.  The BEST LINE EVER ® is THE line, the one that’s going to solve all my problems!  My arms are elbow-deep in suds and I quickly rinse them, slap them a little with the towel hanging from my oven and speed over to my laptop with half-wet fingers, not caring as I write down BEST LINE EVER ® and proceed to write five more words after that.

Five more measly words.

Leaving me, once again, in the middle of a sentence.

It’s some time later when I realize that I am never going to win this war with my Word document.  Sometimes when I run out of steam, I’ll trade over to a pen and lined paper, get going for a paragraph or two, and then type it all up and actually end on a finished sentence.  If I’m lucky, I’ll sometimes get an entire page or two done in one sitting.  But the last chapter I finished was sixteen pages.

And this has led me to understand the most important part of my writing process: The Cease-Fire.

Ctrl+S + the little red X button in the upper-right hand corner + my pillow.

It took me almost three weeks to finish those sixteen pages.  Three weeks of staring at blinking cursors and trying my darndest to not look at my e-mail every five seconds and the sleek background design from that git from Microsoft.  And that’s nothing compared to the year-and-a-half I spent on the draft before this one.  And even that is nothing compared to the year-and-three-months I’ve already spent honing my craft in grad school, combined with the five years I spent in undergrad, combined with the four years of high school essays, combined with the two years of middle school essays, combined with—

Training.  My whole life has been about training.  I haven’t stopped training from day one when my parents tried to teach me the basics, repeating bilabial syllables: ma-ma, pa-pa.  Over and over again.  Ma-ma.  Pa-pa.

And I look at those last sixteen pages again and realize: I have a few damn good lines in here.

And I look at those last sixteen pages again and realize: This isn’t all crap.

And I look at those last sixteen pages again and realize: This isn’t all crap.

“Incomplete” is part of the writing process.  It has to be.  From looking at incomplete things I continue to find places to improve the story, to make this draft better than the last one, and it usually is.  The truth of it is: I will probably cut the BEST LINE EVER ®.  Probably because there will be a new one.  Probably because if I’d studied something like engineering and weren’t working on a book, I’d be bored to tears.  I’d be reading other people’s books and wishing I could make something like that.  “Incomplete” puts me in the process of making that thing.

I am, essentially, living my own dream.  I am that girl in the damn brochure.  I just eat a lot more chocolate than the girl in that brochure.

The truth is: plenty of writers look at their books after they’re published and wish they could change what they’ve written.  The truth is that there is no definite end in sight, but the masochist in me never wants it to end, anyway.

***

Gabrielle Lee is Managing Editor for Willow Springs. She lives in Spokane, Washington with her husband, where her short play and its sequel were performed in 2013. Her fiction work recently appeared in Scissors & Spackle.

2 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Editor and Writer Gabrielle Lee

  1. Karen M says:

    How true this all is. Especially the repetitive saving, the willful amnesia that allows you to forget momentarily that you haven’t actually written anything in the past hour or two of sitting in front of the computer. And you’re right: When you love to write, you also hate it, and you also can’t stop going back to it.

  2. Ralph Castro says:

    I truly believe that your writing is great!!

    Telling a story or writing a book may be endless, however, this may be a good thing.

    Stories never appear to end, and every time a the story is repeated or told to someone else it will be different and incomplete. This fact will never the less make the reader wonder what you were trying to say or interpret, thus making the reader more curious and search or read into your story. Curiosity killed the cat (we definitely learn more about the subject and especially the writer.

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