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Serpent Blog - The Serpent Box Letters: Sometimes Writing Means Not Writing

Serpent Blog

The Serpent Box Letters: Sometimes Writing Means Not Writing 
So, I have been posting the letters I wrote during the writing of Serpent Box, not just for you dear reader, but for me as well. I want to learn what I learned during that time when I was working on what I hope will not be my last novel. As I post these, I am reading them for the first time. So we're discovering together.

You hear writers talk about their process and what that is, is, how you work. Pulling a big story out of thin air is daunting. Sitting down day after day with nothing but the vaguest idea of what you're doing is terrifying. Creating a rhythm to how you work, not just physically but mentally, psychologically, is, I believe, essential to finishing a book. So when you write your first you have to half invent, half discover what this process is for you.

It's fascinating to me to witness my own process as it developed. Trial and error. Feeling my way in the dark. Failures. Patience. Faith. This is what you do.

These first letters written in early 2002, only a few months after 9/11, show me that I was struggling, every day, to figure out what the hell I was doing. Imagine building a ship out of wood by hand. I was so lost. I am not very good at building things of complexity. I failed plastic-model-building 101. All those pieces. All those instructions. All that unwieldy glue. But this was different. No reference photo to consult. No step-by-step booklet. No plastic cement. And maybe that's why I was able to pull it off.

It was early 2002. The world was, if you remember, a newly terrifying place. What would happen tomorrow? We didn't know. They were still pulling body parts out of ground zero. Have we even begun to recover?

I sat in a tiny cafe. I drank a lot of coffee. I read the Bible. I read Rumi. I read Frank Stanford poems and listened to Tom Waits. And I wrote.

*


January 21, 2002
Higher Grounds Café, San Francisco

Andrew,

I have grown to fear the weekends now. I fear the days that I am not writing. On these days, my body chemistry changes, I can feel it. I am not my true self. I am cranky and cynical. I wish there was some way I could find even a small period of time to do something. Even a paragraph would help (Hell, on some full writing days I have barely managed even that). On this past Saturday I had it all planned out. I was going to take one hour to come here, to this café, and work. Just one hour is all I wanted. One. But it wasn’t meant to be. One of the girls is always sick and this time it was Lilana’s turn. So I did not write at all over the weekend and Friday was not an especially productive day, therefore I am feeling morose and guilty and am quite anxious to get back on track. I am not sure yet if my situation is good or bad for the work. On one hand, I have too little time and wish I could get more done. On the other, there is much to be said for time taking its time. These pauses and delays, which seem to be forced upon me, may in fact be given me as gifts by design. For I truly believe the real work is done between the actual moments of writing, and that this is where connections are made, inspiration is found and ideas brew. One should force oneself into a period of daily exile from the page and the pen.
Now I begin. I will read the last few pages I have written and work myself back into the state. I prefer to read this aloud, in a tone of voice that is almost a whisper, so that the flavor and texture of each word is enhanced in my throat and on my lips. This, to me, is very satisfying.

VLC


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