Sunday, January 7, 2007

Useful Self-Deception

I'm about a third of the way through a novel I've been writing for four months or so, and over the past few weeks the work ground to a halt. Part of the reason for this was a home renovation project we've been doing, and part was the holidays--but the fact was, I'd been kidding myself about the real reason, which is subtler, and is actually relevant to the work itself.

There comes a time in any creative project when you've got to face what it is you're actually doing, and the consequences of doing it. You might be inspired by certain details, characters, or themes, and this might propel you quite some distance--but at some point, you have to face the music. In my case, I had come to a point in the plot of my book when I had to decide if what I was writing was a work of realism, or something else entirely.

If you'd asked me this four months ago, I would have answered promptly: it's something else. But nobody asked me, least of all myself. Until this morning, when I sat down to write after a several weeks' slump, and realized that I couldn't write the next sentence without answering the question.

It was easy. I answered it and moved on, with a renewed sense of purpose, and the book is back on track.

Why couldn't I have asked myself this question four months ago, or even last month, before my slump? The fact is, I didn't realize it was there to ask. I needed the bulwark of the first hundred or so pages to take the leap of faith that would deliver me to the rest. I was engaged in four months of useful self-deception, to ready myself to know what I was doing.

Writing, I think, is often a process of useful self-deception, like the cartoon coyote's gravity-defying pause before he plunges at last into the canyon. You have to look deeply into some parts of yourself, while denying the existence of other, even more vital, parts. It's no wonder so many of us are drunks.

1 comment:

Don McArthur said...

"...Writing, I think, is often a process of useful self-deception..."

Hmmm. Life, I think.