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Thursday, May 14, 2009


One of my favorite writers, the brilliant, incisive, and insightful E.L. Doctorow, with whom I studied at NYU's MFA program, once remarked that writing is essentially just a continuous process of problem-solving. I actually really like that view; it de-mystifies the process, and restores a writer's control. If writing is all about "inspiration," there's very little you can do as a writer other than twiddle your thumbs and hope that the muse didn't wake up too hungover to make it into her day job. If it's all about problem-solving, however, you can confront and untangle and move forward with the work, even when you're feeling blocked. It's kind of like solving a cross-word puzzle: even if you encounter an obstacle, a clue you don't understand or a word you don't know, you can attack the problem from the periphery. Eventually you will fill in a sufficient quantity of letters to make the solution to the original problem clear. 
That's how writing is, too. For weeks and weeks I've been struggling with a specific problem in a new proposal I'm working on, turning it over and over in my mind, hitting road-blocks every time I try to figure out a way to go forward. In the meantime I've been working on plot development and character arc and various other things, but this problem was significant enough to prevent me from making any major inroads into the story.
Okay, here comes the good news: yesterday as I was running, the solution just occurred to me. It was the most incredible feeling--suddenly it was like this big, messy fog had just lifted, leaving a perfectly clear view. Yay! A very big wall has come down and I can actually go full speed ahead, instead of creeping forward by inches and degrees, which is what it has felt like for close to a month.
Or at least, I'll go full speed ahead...until I hit that next wall. Then I'll start the creeping, crawling process of scraping my way above and around it, until the next open vista comes into view...etc etc etc. It's endless; but that's writing.

1 comment:

Emily J. Griffin said...

Just catching up on your blog. I'm a new reader sent over by Suzanne Young (yay).

You have most perfectly described the position I am currently in with my writing - the creeping and crawling stage. I feel guilty, and wasteful, and foolish sitting around mulling things over, attempting to explain them to others who constantly ask, "how's your writing going?" It's good to know the solutions do eventually come!

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