Writing Rule #1: Don’t Get Cocky!

Writing Rule #1: Don't Get Cocky!I had a pretty good writing day yesterday. After a dozen or so attempts, I had finally worked my way through a scene that had been a morass.

I felt suddenly clear, not angry, nothing like that. I was in the moment. I only had to fill it. “You remember when we were on the dock?”

I made significant headway after that, another 15 pages, rocketing through it all. Everything was making sense. I had found my way. I knew the next day would be easy, more of the same, clear sailing until the end.  I was on auto-pilot. And then I ran into this:

I accepted his sudden blindness for nothing but his need of this. I knew there was nothing else to it, holding my hair back and kissing his neck, my practiced breath, my shoulders forward, and had a feeling of being held there and then all of me sloping down through me…

Writing Rule #1: Don't Get Cocky!

There was more of this, a lot more. It was a wall of awful. I stared. That was all I could do. I had gotten cocky. I had screwed up. I had thought I had it, when I had nothing.

I sat and stared. My mind was blank. I was beaten. I started to write and stopped again. I got through maybe a sentence and stopped again, until finally I had insect momentum and went at it again. I clawed through maybe a page, and then did another, went backward, went ahead and then maybe three more.

I used to dream about flying, almost every night. And then I bragged about it. “I fly every night.” It ended there. I’ve flown maybe twice since then, over 15 years ago. What an idiot. I must be patient. I believe that I’ll have it back tomorrow. I’m building back. I just have to think about yesterday and remember that I can fly…if I want it.

Writing Rule #1: Don't Get Cocky!

A Moment

My apologies for the time lag between entries. I got distracted and lost and weighed down by non-writing things. It happens I guess. I’m new to this. It’s not like anyone is reading this yet, although sometime soon I will have to connect to a bigger server, something like that. Anyway I was thinking about my last entry, what I was aiming at as a kid writer and what the entries I posted might mean. And I’ve come to a small conclusion. The thing is the moment. That’s the core of writing – imagining, identifying, recreating, detailing the moment, making it live not just for the writer, not just that flash in the mind with my fingers hitting the keys, but constructing it so it’s something more, so it has depth and breadth, so it lives for others too.

That was what I liked as a kid writing the entries for my Moosonee and Prince Edward Island journals, that feeling of making what I had just experienced something substantial. True, I did spend a lot of time counting moose and barns blown over, but I also tried to describe what I saw so that it might be pictured later and then maybe made into another thing on its own. Looking back, I remember the feeling of being in that motel with all of that yelling and screaming more than the bottles on the floor. I just didn’t know how to describe it.

I had the same problem a year before (1972) when writing about Game Seven for the Summit Series between Canada and the Soviets. I was in Grade Three and we were allowed to watch this historic game during class as long as we wrote about it. I was very happy about that. But I can’t say that I really seized the moment. Instead it just reads like a summary – with spelling mistakes and incongruous verb tenses – documenting which Canadian scored or, more accurately who made ‘sizzling’ and ‘slamming’ shots. It was an amazing series of moments for me, but I missed the feeling of it. I was too literal.

However one thing I do remember is going home absolutely elated after the last game, Game Eight, when Canada won the series. I ran into my house ready to share the joy with my mother. She was listening to the opera. She looked up and smiled. “What game?” I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. That moment of emptiness is something I have not forgotten. The kitchen was cold and empty, like I’d never been in it before that. The opera sounded like tin and hollow, nothing. My mother was someone else, definitely not my mother. I went out back and took shots on net against the garage. I was the hero for Canada (Paul Henderson) again and again. I never got tired of it. And then my father arrived in his big Buick. I knew I could share my excitement with him. I was wrong about that too. He knew about the game, but he was tired and needed a drink. I took more shots – on the net. I celebrated the historic goal a new way each time. And I was happy about all of that. I just didn’t understand why I was the only one.

I had a moment like this – empty, not what I expected – at the beginning of this week, the reason for the lengthy gap between entries. I went into my doctor for an exam and was told that I had a blood clot in my leg. The clot had been there for three weeks and had been life-threatening. I had just never known it. When the doctor told me, I knew it was one of those moments to capture. My mortality was being held up raw in the little office. It was cold and clean like my mother’s kitchen. The words sounded important but not like I thought they should. I was just watching and listening to what to do. Get the cat scan, take these injections, take these pills. My blood will be thinned. That will be that. Okay. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing just that. More than anything, I would have liked to go out back and take shots on a net.