Inspiration, Lack of

March 28, 2011

6:15 p.m.

Cold and clear.

Another day at home working on revisions to the young adult novel.  Finally early in the evening I stop.  I feel dull, achy, and stupid.  I need fresh air.  Sallie and I head west across the ice of Muskallonge Lake, following a path the sun makes.  It feels like spring–the sun is so high so late in the day.

Last night when we arrived the sky was black, the stars shone sharp, and the lake was booming, making ice.  Everything is silent now.  The ice has an even popcorn stitch texture all across its surface.  A scrim of snow makes a crunching noise under my sneakers.  I like this.  I veer here and there to keep walking on the snow.  When I was a kid I always broke the thin pane of ice on puddles to hear them splinter, and this is like that.  Sallie and I each stop, independently, to investigate the only exceptions in the unbroken expanse of ice.  These are a feather, a scrap of birch bark, and a pine branch.  Sallie trots ahead, full of purpose.  Every now and then she looks back at me.  Her expression seems quizzical, but maybe it isn’t that, exactly.  Probably she isn’t really thinking.  She’s just doing.  Trotting.  Stopping.  Trotting.

After a mile I turn back.  My right arm and the right side of my face are very cold.  The wind is coming straight out of the north.  It’s not so much a wind as a breeze.  There’s always a breeze on the lake.  Maybe always a breeze in general.  Often visitors ask me if it’s always this windy.  I usually have to stop and think:  Is it windy?

Now back to revisions.  I think of myself as a slow writer.  For me revisions (and also first drafts) are painstaking and methodical.  Also–in the end, more or less–satisfying.  I hammer away at the manuscript.  I try to make things better.  That’s all I know I can do:  make things better.  Generally the process feels excruciating and uneven.  Very often I get up and pace.  I make more coffee and sip at it.  I eat small pieces of chocolate.  I ask the cats and Sallie random questions that they don’t bother to answer.  If they could, they’d roll their eyes at me:  You call this working?

Today  I pruned adjectives and adverbs and rewrote a chapter from mostly narration to mostly dialogue.  Also I ate half a bag of Parmesan garlic potato chips.

If I think too far ahead I feel overwhelmed by how much I want for the  manuscript.  I want it to be good.  I stop this line of thought in its tracks.  Back to work.  More hammering.

Category: At Home 3 comments »

3 Responses to “Inspiration, Lack of”

  1. Pamela Grath

    I heard a writer on the radio, being interviewed, who said something very pithy and funny and very much to this point of yours, but do you think I can remember what she said? Or even what her name was? You are a worker in every sense of the word, Ellen!

  2. Gerry Sell

    Soooo . . . goodness is born not of inspiration but of pruning and hammering. Good to know. Can I have the rest of the potato chips? Oh never mind, I just found some.

  3. ellenair

    Gerry, I hope so!


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