This past weekend I was in Hayden, Idaho competing in USTA Sectionals. Our Portland team had the best record this season, so we qualified to compete against other tennis teams in the Pacific NW. Let’s just say it was a moment that keeps pride from getting too firm a grip. I made the 2 hour trip from Ione, where I have been writing 8-10 hours a day for days. It was a nice diversion and a good way to end our time away.
There was quite a bit of time in between matches, so I did some reading, beginning with an article in the NY Times by Stephen King. I’ve never read any of King’s books, though I was captivated by his creativity during the summer of 2006 when his Nightmares and Dreamscapes was adapted into an eight-episode miniseries on TNT. Who can forget William Hurt harassed by sinister toy soldiers after killing the CEO of a toy company, or Richard Thomas falling into a catatonic state and becomes a witness to his own autopsy?
But my writing interest in King was piqued by yesterday’s article, “Can a Novelist Be Too Productive?” Writers, he notes, work at different speeds. Some churn out hundreds of books, their minds exploding with ideas (heads like a crowded movie theatre where someone yells “Fire!” and everyone scrambles to the exits at once). But does this lead to bad writing? Does it become more typing than writing? Not always, argues King. Quantity can still be quality. Other writers are painstakingly slow, writing one or two books a year. For them especially, writing is a craft where each sentence—each word—must “carry weight,” “have strong motion.”
This is year three, coming up to our cabin, sitting at my computer, looking over to the left at the Pend Oreille River, and writing. No one can accuse me of being prolific! I have been working on this same book that, Lord willing, will be published sometime next year. The working title is Life Under an Open Heaven.
When you write for long periods of time, your mind does crazy things. You notice words—really notice words! You want the ones you use to carry weight and move. You wake up thinking about sentence constructions; you can’t read a book—anything–without noticing how something is said. The last two nights, I have even dreamed I am writing, making corrections, only to wake up and realize some of those great ideas are lost. Friday I was reading about conditions in Lebanon where, due to an inept government, the garbage has not been picked up in weeks. The electricity goes on, and then is turned off. Having the necessary water, the necessary basics, can be a problem. It all is driving people mad! A grocer in Basta poured out his despair, “I am living against my will. I am obliged to live.”
What a line! It will go in chapter 5, as I picture the scene by the Sheep gate. Sycophants. I just love the sound of this word. I know the types. It will go in chapter 3, as I think about people around Nicodemus. Reading about Eugene Peterson’s earlier years, he describes a season where he “intentionally meandered.” This goes in chapter 7. This is what Jesus was doing before heading back to Judea.
I am becoming like my wire fox terrier, whose sniffing habits make it difficult for him to get from point A to point B. He moves furiously, stopping by every bush, every hole, and every person. He is sure he is on to something. He can stare for hours at a mole hill. I look at myself and realize I too have my nose to the ground, constantly sniffing for words, phrases, ideas. But there is no time to lose. Life goes by rapidly. One must get to point B. As King puts it, “The creative spark dims, and then death puts it out.” A reassuring thought!