It’s important for writers to be busy. It’s more important for writers to find balance. A long time ago, I read somewhere that Thomas Mann did not attend his son’s funeral because he was writing. Whether this is true or not, this would be an example of bad balance. Another writer whose name escapes me once said: “Always be working.” I agree with that, but I have to remind myself that it’s important to participate in life.
In a weird way, it’s life that is keeping me from completing a section of a new novel or, more to the point, the pending death of a character in this tale. I’ve rewritten this section countless times since 2011. It’s a particularly hard scene because of the nature of this particular character’s lot in life and the ultimate end I have created. I wish that this character didn’t have to die, but it is an integral part of the story; likewise, the grotesque situation he’s forced into and the manner in which he’s dispatched.
Lately, in light of my current predicament, I have done my best to participate in life. This summer I am teaching at a community college. I am not loving the hot weather (though my wife seems to gain a perverse pleasure in my suffering even if she denies it). It’s the season of graduation and of course, in my big family, birthdays which means parties and get-togethers. In the midst of all this life, I just completed a short story rough draft. In between all of this, and other aspects of my life, I am rewriting my character’s death scene in the new novel ever so slowly. In fact, I haven’t quite rewritten (yet again) the moment of my character’s death. Everything…well, almost everything that leads up to this point is complete. Yet, I have slowed down the rate at which I am working the rewrite of this scene; so much so that just the other night I only wrote 250 words (this post, if you must know, is more than twice as long).
Despite that paltry word count from the other night, I understand how important it is to render this particular section as best I can. Hemingway was quoted as saying something to the effect that writers should not think about their work when they are not working. I don’t know any writer who isn’t guilty of breaking Hemingway’s rule to some degree or another, including, I suspect, Hemingway himself. I know I broke that rule the other day. I was standing in the middle of my class, discussing systems of control within our society, when it hit me: I don’t want this character in my novel to die because I am the character as much as the character is me. In effect, when (the operative word here: when) he gets killed it’s as if I am getting killed or, if not, at least some small part of me ceases to exist.
Right now, as I sit and write this, the most recent hardcopy draft of the new novel is sitting on my desk. There are notes, both in pencil and in ink, up and down the margins. The black Times New Roman font against the white page facing up taunts me; as if to say “Go ahead. I dare you to finish rewriting me.” Not to worry. I am going to see through this character’s murder soon. Then I am going set aside this manuscript for a few weeks and go live some more.