Most people who know me well know that I am a weenie. I may talk a big game, but I tend to avoid confrontations, I am scared of heights, bridges, highways, semis, spiders, centipedes, and tonight I asked my husband to take the dead lizard out of the bathtub. But I’ve always thought I was fearless when it came to writing. Then came Chapter 17.
I thought I could handle Chapter 17. In it, my heroine has to deal with the experience of her father’s stroke. I had done the hospital chapter, including the ER and waiting room, without a hitch, and I was happy with them. But then, my heroine had to think about what had happened. She had to think about her father, her life, his life, what changes, what happens in your head when you first face human frailty, mortality…and you see it in your dad.
I thought I was well-equipped for this. You see, my own father died after a 5-month battle with a brain tumour when I was 16. During that time, my family adopted a policy of being very direct and honest; and so I can talk about what happened, and its consequences in a fairly detached, clinical matter. It was what it was.
But thoughts are different. They’re even different from the feelings involved. They’re more complex, tapping deep roots in the soul. I needed to access them for Chapter 17. But in the end, I couldn’t. I didn’t have the guts to go there.
Writing demands a lot from us. It wants our time, our energy, our imagination, devotion, and every ounce of our skill. It wrings us out and leaves us dissatisfied with the effort. But it wants more than that. It wants us to go as far as we can into our own depths, and expose them on the page, to make it true. We know when others have done this, because we’re gripped, and if we try to explain why, we can’t quite describe it. These are transcendent moments, when the writer gives us more than the words and pictures of story, and we all want to achieve it, at least once.
I backed off from Chapter 17. I just typed those two words on the page, left a one-paragraph description of what should happen, then moved on to the aftermath. Now, the revised version of the WIP has evolved to the point that Chapter 17 isn’t necessary. It’s still out there, however. Maybe as Chapter 32 in my next book, or Chapters 2 and 19 in the third. I’ll have to go there. Writing demands nothing less. Be ready.