Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Writer's High

Though it’s a poor excuse for not blogging, I am happy to report that I have been skiing all week. Let’s be clear: I am a terrible skier. Only my desire to witness the accomplishments of my black-diamond-running kids drove me, at thirty-something, into a pair of those complicated boots, up the lift, and down the slopes. My near-flat learning curve, atrocious form, and incessant mantra (“nothing is steep from side-to-side”) notwithstanding, I have begun to improve. Just this morning, four years since I took up the sport, I went down my first intermediate run. Is it coincidence this winter season also marks a new writing accomplishment?

Slopeside, I admit to two brief panic attacks. But for a chicken-hearted ex-ballerina, my intermediate run was a victory both in increased courage and improved technique. I faced steep passages with a deep breath, a smile, and continued downward skiing. I even managed some parallel turns, driving forward with my downhill ski, keeping the uphill one in line, and maintaining a modicum of control over my speed and direction. I enjoyed that rare sense of elation that comes with the convergence of technique and understanding. Runners have named it the “high” but it has an unnamed parallel in many arts that require practice and dedication, in those moments when you can simultaneously enjoy, execute and control your action, be it skiing, dancing, playing basketball, or even writing.

On the page, the journey to this feeling began when I used the NaNoWriMo experience to draft a novel that had been bubbling in my brain. After a grueling 50,000 word November, I followed seasoned NaNo-ers’ advice and left the manuscript more or less alone over the holidays, spending the wish-I-were-still-writing time studying writing craft books with a particular view toward how I was going to hone my draft when I finally got back to it. My revision strategy grew increasingly strong and clear.

In early January, I peered down the intimidating, 50,000-word slope, took a deep breath and pushed off. I drove my delete key across adjectives, flowery dialogue attributes and non-essential descriptions. I listened for inauthentic character voices and kept each chapter tightly pointed to the progression of the plot. And, though there have been days when the mountain of text seemed just too steep to navigate, often I feel a sense that I am in control of my work—I can make it to the proverbial base.

My small cadre of trusted readers and critiquers feel it, too. This book is different: tighter, faster, more elegant. Who knows what will come of this? Will I have the gumption to get it into the hands of the right agent or editor? Will this be the one that makes me a published fiction writer? It would be nice but for now I am almost content to revel in the gift of an amazing writer’s high.