The struggle against silence

In the last week I’ve written a couple of poems, eaten a lot of frozen custard.  I’ve explored a tiny corner of the desert, watched baseball, soaked up some sun.  I’ve pondered stories, both the WIP and what I want to write for Camp NaNoWriMo.  I’ve considered my time as an author, and what I’d like to do in the future.

Arizona near Picacho Peak State Park

And I’ve thought about this post.  I’ve been thinking about this post since before we left on holiday.  That might sound a little odd; what’s a blog post in the big scheme?  But then, what are all these novels in the long view, not much more than another cactus in the desert.  There are THOUSANDS of cacti in Arizona, along with mesquite trees, various shrubs, and tiny animals be they insects, lizards, or mammals that manage to survive in some pretty desolate territory.  Nothing overtly sexy about the desert, except maybe for the baseball players who grace it for a few weeks right before the season starts.  Which is sort of like writing; very little about noveling is glamorous, save what the writer concocts within the narrative.  The task of writing is butt in chair over and over and over again, ’nuff said.

Yet, as Camp NaNo approaches, the idea of sexy rolls through my mind; a set word count for thirty days or bust!  (For April, word counts are flexible, not the usual November 50K.)  Dude, let’s get those pens to paper, fingers on keyboards, and write some books!  It’s an event, not once in a lifetime, but still pretty heady stuff.  It’s how I got started, because I sure needed a kick in the keister.  I required a few, then suddenly novels were falling from my gray matter like manna from heaven.  Yet, in the quieter, non-NaNo months, writing gets sucked into the vortex of silence, or plopped along Interstate 10 like a Saguaro, sometimes poked by a bird looking for shelter.

Those cacti stand for decades, eons maybe.  They stand until they don’t, but no one’s around to see when they hit the ground, much like a writer who toils through so many travails, finishing that novel, but to what effect?  Writing is a solitary affair, not like playing baseball for a crowd.

San Francisco Giants vs the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Stadium

Now that’s pretty darn sexy.

Before we left for Arizona, I wrote a blog post for the WIP.  As soon as I hit Publish, the left side of the window offered this quote by Carlos Fuentes: Writing is a struggle against silence.  That quote piled onto a post idea that originated from an email I wrote to my NaNo buddy Laura, about the courage writing requires.  As I said to Laura, ‘Writing a novel in a month sounds artistically sexy, but truthfully I think there is more to it.’

It’s courage in writing about a controversial topic.  It’s also the courage to set down half-formed ideas in very precarious prose.  And while I’ve never spoken to Chris Baty on this particular subject, I have to wonder if when he and friends started National Novel Writing Month in 1999 that was part of the reason.  When placed under the 50K or bust banner, hey, now we’re talking flashy, shiny, cool.

Very very cool, even in the middle of the desert.

But cool only goes so far, like an ice cube in Arizona.  It takes courage to keep muddling through a manuscript, especially when November, April, and other designated NaNo months are over.  That’s when the struggle gets truly difficult, maybe how some baseball players feel in late August, fifteen games out of first place.  The early crowds have dwindled and making the playoffs is a faint dream.  It’s baking hot in the outfield, and what’s the point?   For all intents and purposes the season is over, but those final games have to be played.  Sort of like the days past NaNo or Camp NaNo; an unfinished novel lingers in the hard drive or on paper, but to a weary author, those incomplete thoughts look as appealing as walking through miles of desert with no water bottle or sunscreen.

Torturous, to be honest.  And certainly not sexy at all.

So what’s the friggin’ point?  Not even considering publication, but just the act of writing; what’s it all about?  Well, and this is just my humble opinion, I *think* it’s about communication.  It’s about fighting silence, be it personal or on behalf of someone or something else.  A great Chris Baty quote goes like this: There’s a book in you that only you can write.  It’s embossed on a NaNo journal, and to me embodies the real spirit of NaNoWriMo and writing in general; telling a story that only I can express due to my particular experiences and point of view.  It has nothing to do with shiny or sexy, but everything to do with courage.  2013 is a year for struggling against the silence that creeps up my ankles, slides along the back of my calves, making me shiver with that rhetorical query: why do this?  There are many notable ways to pass the time that aren’t so, well jeez, BORING!  Eat frozen custard, watch baseball, soak up the sun…  Those are high on my list, enjoyed just last week.

But holiday is over.  I’m back to real life, which means laundry in the washer and hanging on the line.  I need to get to the store, put away dishes in the drainer, outline Camp NaNo’s project, return to the WIP.  Those poems I wrote weren’t like what I’ll write tomorrow, more like detailing parts of the vacation before it was even over.  But eventually the sexy dies away, leaving the silence and the struggle, which isn’t overly bright and shiny.  It’s methodically putting one word after another until the manuscript is done, which at times feels like trudging through the desert sans water and sunblock.

Now, sometimes it feels like hitting a grand slam or an in the park triple.  I wouldn’t be doing this if there wasn’t some payoff, and completing a novel certainly falls under that heading, as does publishing books.  But to reach those points a plethora of faffing about occurs, and a lot silence.  Once I’ve listened to the song of the day, there is no noise, other than the tapping of the keyboard.  It’s me, the computer, and the story trying to manage a twirl that occasionally feels like a choreographed tango, but often clunks along like preteens learning to square dance.  Yet, even at writing’s most cumbersome moments, I persevere, because in just those tapping fingers the silence is being broken.  The struggle is being won.

With a little less than two weeks until Camp NaNo starts, I have a lot of outlining to do.  I wanted to accomplish some on holiday, but other than conjuring a few character names and writing them on colour-coordinated pieces of paper for the necessary sketches, I ate custard, watched baseball, took photos of the desert.  I soaked up time with my husband  which was the best part of the whole trip.  But while he was napping, or surfing the web, I considered this post, because it’s important to remind myself, and anyone willing to brave a long song and dance, what the point of writing is; it’s not about penning the great American novel or making money.  It’s about spinning yarns that only I can tell.  Some of them won’t go much further than onto a flash drive, some will be released.  But breaking the silence is paramount.  Not every Little Leaguer will play for a pro team, but kids need an outlet, and baseball provides one way for a person to express themselves.  Writing is another, and thank God I can do it, as I have more plots than sense.  I also want to make my voice heard.

What Chris said...

Life is short, and goodness knows there is plenty to say.  Off I go, one novel to outline, another over which to refresh for tomorrow, another day to kick silence right in the keister.

About Anna Scott Graham

I'm an independent poet and novelist in addition to sharing my life with a wonderful man, various kids, several hummingbirds, and a plethora of plants inside and out. View all posts by Anna Scott Graham

10 responses to “The struggle against silence

  • Jill Weatherholt

    In your case, “There’s a book in you that only you can write,” should read, “There’s books in you that only you can write.” You will not be silenced. Welcome home, Anna. I’m glad you had a great trip!

  • Katie

    You’re a great analogist! I like the one between the little leaguer and the writer. Just because you may not go on to become a superstar professional, that doesn’t mean participation isn’t good for you. It’s great for you!

    Postscript: I love AZ. And have played ball there in August. And it is ungodly sweltering.

    • Anna Scott Graham

      I grew up in some pretty hot temps, but man, Arizona is the winner.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. I think a wide misconception is that being a writer means wishing to achieve some sort of popular acclaim, which is pretty rubbish in my opinion. I’ve discussed this with other writers, and we are flummoxed as to why being an author seems to need some sort of legitimate stamp. I write for the sheer pleasure, and to communicate. Can’t that be enough? :)

  • Laura Bruno Lilly

    Your NaNo writing buddy checking in here: ‘it’s about fighting silence…’ That helps me immensely right now in my struggle to see the forest for the trees (or rather desert for the saguaros!) in my nonfic wip. Are we social activists or what?!
    peace

  • diannegray

    I love the analogy between cactus and writing, Anna! Best of luck with Camp NaNo and I really believe you’re going into this with a brilliant attitude :D

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