Until You Crash, What Have You Done

2011 was the year of the crash.  My crash.  With my manuscript.

And here’s the kicker:  It’s taken me a full 12 months to the day to realize this crash was assuredly, if painfully, needed.  I hit a necessary obstacle.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  The book that existed this time last year is not the book I intended to write.  It was the starting line.  It needed work.  And not just the work of sitting my ass in this chair and writing for the sake of filling up the pages, but the kind of introspection and attention where every section, every paragraph and sentence, needed to be fleshed out and filled back in; the kind where my best ideas came when I was not actually in this chair, but somewhere else.

Sometimes the big crash comes to make you stop, to snap your brain, to force you to put down your pen with it’s bleeding blue ink and give the thing a chance to breathe.

I’m breathing better, too.  I’ve been back to jogging for 7 weeks now.  Today was the first time I chucked the jog and ran sprints.  Today was the first time I ran the entire way with my eyes trained forward, on the distance, instead of with my head ducked down, wary of the rocks and obstacles that might trip me up.  Today I came home with two sentences I didn’t even know I was looking for.

In a 1965 interview, William Styron said, I’ve always thought that time was a challenge.  I have a feeling the good writer will set up obstacles for himself.  He will try to make his story as difficult to write as possible, to see if he can leap over these obstacles with grace.  I’ve always felt I had to do this with everything I’ve written to give the work a sort of tension.  If I’d ever written anything in a simple and straightforward way, it would have lacked that tension.  The use of time is often the most convenient way to set up these obstacles.

Hey Bill, I was born in 1965.  Last night, 12 months to the day, I heard this song and felt something shake loose.  I was listening to it this morning, running, when I found those two missing sentences.  What are the chances?

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13 thoughts on “Until You Crash, What Have You Done

  1. macdougalstreetbaby

    So beautiful, Teri. I’d love to know what those two sentences are but something tells me they’re in sacred territory right now and should be protected against any and all scrutiny.

    I always imagined this time that you’re in to be the most creative. The time where the story is down and now you get to roll up your sleeves and improvise. Am I completely off or do you feel a sense of freedom now?

  2. schietree

    This is such a great quote, and oouf, I really know what you mean by ‘crash’. I’ve done it twice now – both books needing major rewrites. Congratulations on pushing through the wall.

  3. lizisilver

    No words, Teri. This is a thrilling, freeing space to be in and I’m so glad for you. FTF magic.

    And, god how your posts make me wish I could run. I’m certain all the answers to my literary (and life) problems dwell there, in the space between sneakers and pavement and fast, hard breath.

  4. Lyra

    Oh yay, oh yay, oh yay.
    The image of you tossing the jog to run sprints, head up, quads burning, and then just as you finish two sentences pop into your head.
    This, THIS is how we do it. How do we do it? Yeah, just like this.
    Rock on, sister.

  5. Averil Dean

    What a post. What a moment for you, running with your eyes up, with a sense of purpose and destination. It’s not every writer who can set her work aside and use the space to grow, then bring it all back and put it on the page. I’m so happy for your new insights; I know you’ll use them well.

  6. Teri Post author

    I’m not altogether cured, but this is such a better place, the book being a marathon and all. I must have hit that Mile 21 mile wall they all talk about. “They all” being the ones who’ve done this many times and are in the know….

  7. Sarah W

    I set obstacles, give myself an impossible schedule to get past them and then tie my shoelaces together, just for good measure.

    Thanks for reminding me that breathing is important, too, and if I start jogging, running will follow . . .

  8. Teri

    Thanks to AmyG who sent me Ann Patchett’s THE GETAWAY CAR, a Kindle single. I read it yesterday. The perfect inspiration. I’ll be re-reading (yes, already) today.

  9. Erika Marks

    Lady, you are something else. Sprints?! I was feeling slightly slackish, now I feel downright lumpy. I can just imagine this epiphany coming over you.

    I know it sounds crazy, but in my experience, there is tremendous strength and passion and renewed purpose in tearing down a ms to find what must survive. I did that with GUMBO early on–gutted it, truly–and I honestly didn’t mourn the work I had done–because I was so excited and driven to move to the next draft–no matter the daunting work that lay ahead. That clarity is what we work toward. Sometimes it arrives when we least expect it, but ALWAYS when we most need it.

  10. Laura Maylene

    This is so uplifting. And I feel like running has become something of a theme on some of the blogs around here….I’m running a little, but not too frequently (or too far). But you ladies are encouraging me to push on — and keep my head up.

  11. Catherine

    Agh the obstacles! I don’t run at all but I do a lot of driving. I don’t even listen to music any more as it seems to be the best time to think around those knots. Glad you are through yours, I’m still feeling my way with my latest.

  12. Downith

    Love that Styron quote. Good on you Teri for pushing through and for finding the space and time for introspection . ” a chance to breathe” – like a fine wine Teri, like a fine wine.

    Thanks to your recommendation I’m just over half way through The Lacuna – which sat on my bedside table for about 2 years! – what a beautifully written novel and it’s reminded me of an early interest in Frida Kahlo.

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