Two dear friends came over yesterday, both of them writers (successful ones – supporting themselves by writing, teaching and editing) and when I asked what they were working on they started to moan. And when they asked me what I was working on I too moaned. Then Judith acted out a very funny scene of what writers do at their desks – jumping up, sitting down, checking email, walking around in a circle, sitting down, checking Facebook, petting the dog and so forth. We talked about how it never gets easier. Surely doctors who take out tumors get a grip on taking out tumors and know how to do it so it’s not a big deal. Or truck drivers know to take the 15 from the 10 to get to Vegas from L.A., and that’s how they do it trip after trip. Or cooks figure out the best way to poach an egg or roast a chicken and they don’t moan about it, they just cook.
But here’s what my friends and I agreed on: if you’re a serious writer you never have a recipe or route that consistently works. Sure, you learn certain tricks, you learn about your own process, but each essay, each novel or memoir or article is starting from scratch. Our students might imagine us sitting calmly down at our desks, beginning work like sane adults, tapping out the words with great confidence (after all, between the three of us we’ve published a lot of books and essays and articles, we should know what we’re doing). But the fact is, we jump up, sit down, check email, pet the dog – and try to remember that if we do this long enough, stick with it, stay on the trail of whatever excited us about this idea in the first place, eventually we’ll come up with a finished manuscript.