Dreams and Paper

by Elizabeth Partridge

In writing a book, there are two major points where I feel like I am standing at the top of a high dive, and I just don’t want to jump off. The first is when it’s time to begin. That doesn’t include any research I need to do. I love being immersed in research. It doesn’t include any dreaming about my characters, places, possible plot twists. It’s the actual pen-to-paper that is hard. Those little squiggly words are such a tough way to catch those dreams and shape them into something that I can excite someone else with.

With slogging, I can get words down. And there are occasional flights, where my feet leave the ground and I lift off. I look up from my desk and I’ve been writing for hours. The words are never good enough, but they’ll do for the moment. Ponder, shape, rewrite. I get closer. And a little closer. But at a certain point I realize I will never make the book be the dream. I’ve hit my second hard point: time to turn in the manuscript, and I don’t want to.

But I do. And when the real book arrives in the mail months later, it is imperfect, and perfectly beautiful.


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4 responses to “Dreams and Paper

  1. Martine

    I hear you, Elizabeth. Jane Austen took 15 years to write Pride and Prejudice and it was perfect. But then Jane Austen was a genius, so maybe even taking 15 years wouldn’t help most of us. Maybe the imperfections in our stories keep them just a little bit raw – some of the nutrition left in…

  2. Ah, Betsy, putting down the squiggly words and commencing with the slog. As you say, it takes mettle to keep at the raw material and not allow the idea to become but a beautiful daydream. And the reward: sometimes the squiggly word gives rise to an almost perfectly shaped thought or image on the page and the slog shapes a life (both the writer’s and the character’s). Sometimes I wish there was a breakfast cereal called Mettle … you know, sort of like Wheaties, Breakfast of Champions, but for writers/artists to fortify us for the slog.

  3. Those flights, though, Betsy, are what I live for. You never know when you’re going to lift off like that but when you do–it’s magical! I think that in addition to the newly minted imperfection of the book itself, those brief periods of complete immersion help to make the whole slog worthwhile.

  4. louisehawes

    Yes, the flights! As Uma commented, they make it all worthwhile — in those timeless spaces, we are bigger, braver, more loving than we are in “real life.” So though I, too, often feel words standing between me and experience, it’s the effort to join them that brings me most alive. Thanks for reminding me, Betsy…

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