“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress,” or so said Philip Roth, and it’s because writing a book, at least according to George Orwell, “is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” I lack Orwell’s extraordinary gift for language so I’ll just say the dude’s right. Writing is, and I’m paraphrasing here, a bitch. Do you remember those scenes in Throw Mama from the Train when Billy Crystal, a writing teacher in an adult education class, is trying to find the perfect opening line for his version of the great American novel? The night was hot… The night was humid… The night was dry yet it was raining.… He agonizes over this until Mama finally says, “It’s too damn sultry in here.” I don’t remember for sure but I think that’s when he decides to kill her.
Thankfully, modern technology has made that type of old school writer’s block virtually obsolete. No longer are we tormented by that corner garbage can overflowing with crumpled symbols of our failures. That IBM Selectric is gone, replaced by a keyboard, a computer screen, and that sadistic blinking cursor, each flash seemingly saying you suck you’re pathetic, or, if this is your day job than you’re really in trouble.
I can’t even tell you how many days, weeks even months I spent crafting the perfect prologue to A Shot at Redemption. I wanted every word, every line to be flawless. So, long after it was complete, I continued to tweak, to tinker and to rearrange. And are you ready for the kicker? Those of you who’ve read the book know this already. A Shot at Redemption has no prologue. After much deliberation, some hair pulling and a lot of quality time spent banging my head against the wall, I scrapped the whole thing. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did salvage a few bits and pieces to incorporate elsewhere; but the better part of twenty pages fell victim to my delete key. All the blood, the sweat, the tears were for naught. I knew I’d made the right decision. Writers, I’m told, can never be afraid to kill their babies. That’s a valuable lesson but not an easy one to learn.
We’re nearly into February now and we’ve proven once again that most of our resolutions had about the same life expectancy as the tons of confetti that fell on Times Square New Year’s Eve. We’re in the same dead end jobs, eating more and exercising less instead of the other way around, lighting up during every coffee break, drinking too much coffee… not to mention alcohol, and that basement treadmill is once again serving as the world’s most expensive clothing rack. I considered some sort of resolution involving a daily writing quota. I knew I wouldn’t stick to it because I sometimes work very slowly. Once I got behind, I knew the whole thing would be right out the window. I decided instead to not be so hard on myself. I know now that, no matter how much time and effort I devote to a first draft, I’ll be making wholesale changes down the road. In short, it doesn’t matter if the night was hot, or humid, or sultry because it may turn out that the story begins in the middle of the afternoon. I have a bad habit of revising as I write. I’m trying hard not to do that anymore. There’s no point getting stuck on a single word. If the first one won’t come, I need to jump ahead to the tenth or the ten thousandth. The important thing is to press on. And believe me; it’s far easier said than done but I’m giving it my best shot. As DENO sang way back when, “Go Forward. Move ahead. Whip it good!’ Life lessons from guys with flower pots Vn their heads. Hey, whatever it takes.
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