Your Relationship with Your Book

The Curve of Your Spine by estonia76 from FlickrLast week I slipped a disc in my neck.

This is a recurring injury that happens whenever I get sloppy with my stretches and let my posture at my desk go. Though, actually, the slipped disk isn’t the problem. See, if you were to give 10 random people on the street an MRI, about 8 of them would have a slipped disc, but only 2 of them would be feeling anything.

Which is to say that discs, the gelatinous sacs that live between your vertebrae, slip out of place all the time.

My problem is that when this particular disc slips out it hits a nerve, causing pain and numbness and general awful feelings.

So it was impossible for me to sit down at my desk for awhile.

Thus, I had an unplanned break from writing.

And when I came back, I was terrified about how I was going to get figure out my bearings in my book again. Look at an outline? Reread the last few pages? Pray?

It occurred to me that writing a book isn’t about ordering your story to do what you want and pouring words into a pre-built mold.

Writing is more about building a relationship…a relationship with said book.

It’s about sitting down each day and having a chat with your story. It’s about listening as much as talking. It’s about asking the right questions of your characters and your scenes and taking an interest in what’s going on that day. Is the lighting interesting? How does the air smell? If you sit for awhile and everyone agrees to be quiet, what ambient noises will you hear in the background?

Of course then your characters begin to get restless, they have actions and conversations that they were working on yesterday to get back to. They were just fighting with each other, remember? Or someone just fell in love. It’s time to clock in for the day and get back to that. Maybe some of the raw power of the scene isn’t there anymore because, well, you had a better handle on it a few days ago and now it’s slipping away from you. But that’s okay. Because that day you had a handle on it you were able to write it really well, and that will carry through the scene. And when you go back to rewriting you’ll have a clear and colorful batch of words from that day to evenly spread across things so that the entire scene has that feeling you wanted.

A relationship is as much give as it is take. So it’s okay that you don’t quite feel it today. Your characters will be fine with that. See they want to get back to work, they have things to do and emotions to express and you had them all riled up not twenty-four hours ago and they’d very much like to continue that conversation. And they’d prefer to continue it, even if your attention is somewhat wavering, rather than have you not show up for work a bunch of days in a row because you can’t see them clearly enough.

And it’s nice that earlier in the week you were really able to smell the mold in the bathroom in that one building, but the mold isn’t going to mind that you can’t smell it so well anymore. It’s just happy to have been noticed in the first place. It doesn’t need center stage.

Writing a book is relationship; it needs communication every day.

That’s why coming back after a break can be so difficult.

Oddly the difficulty comes about because it isn’t all about you.

There is another entity involved, here: your book.

It’s hard to get back to that place where you listen instead of force.

It’s uncomfortable, when coming back, to let your book carry the conversation when you feel lost.

You feel like, as the author, you should be running the show.

But your book?

It’s got it’s own shit it wants to do.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to keep yourself out of its way.