I prioritize time spent writing over time spent blogging about writing, hence the awkward radio silence for the last six months. Oh, also a contributing factor: as soon as I came home from 3.5 weeks in Scandinavia, I promptly planned a 5.5 week return trip to Europe.
I’ve been back in Seattle for just over 3 weeks, and while I feel much better about the overall direction and progress of Broken Wave, I’m focused on precision over speed, since the angry mob demanding its swift release has wandered off in search of brunost and chocolate. Angry mob, population: 1, answers to the name Winifred.
Whilst gallivanting, and working long hours at the day job in order to afford said gallivanting, my vision of the novel sharpened. I sculpted contours with a machete. I hacked the ever-loving shit out of its structure to reveal the gem beneath. What’s taking shape is the literary equivalent of mixed-media outsider art that people only pretend to appreciate, but its a better approximation of what I wanted to say all along, than the novel I almost released last summer.
What mystifies me about the creative process, is how much easier it isn’t the second time around. I thought figuring out if I was capable of conceiving and completing a novel, was the hard part. I thought there would be, like, a second book discount on process angst. A 15% shave off production time, and zero plot confusion down. It turns out that writing the first novel (if writing novels is what you want to do forever and always), is akin to arriving at base camp. This is not the summit, the summit isn’t even visible from here.
After I got over the initial paralysis of my own hopes for the Cryptid universe and some of the reader insights in reviews, I fell back on what I want to people to feel when they read the next installment in Tabitha Slate’s story, and the things these characters were going through. I also unlocked the author achievement of real-time therapy on the page, writing through the demons I’ve been exorcising for the last 18 months or so. There is nothing like surrendering to the storm upending your world. I’ve been leaning into the wind snatching at my every step. It’s been a hell of a ride, but I’m better for it.
The distraction of navigating new environments with strange food (fish for breakfast now makes total sense to me), languages, and customs (dear Berlin, stop closing down Schonefeld airport between flights, some of us arrive early and it’s mean) helped refine my perspective. I had a few insights into the gift of failure. In Particle Fever, the documentary about the first experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, one of the scientists said “…jumping from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm is the secret to success.” This is the essence of writing I think, unless you’re one of those people who is annoyingly secure about your writing. Yes the quote is a paraphrase of that Magnificent Bastard of the 20th century, Winston Churchill, but if I just quoted Churchill, how would you find out that I watch documentaries about particle physics?
The second and much more grand lesson in failure happened in Stockholm at the Vasa Museum. Imagine for a moment that you have created something ornate and expensive but ultimately, utilitarian, like a house. Or in this case, a ship. Then imagine that on its first day as a functioning object, your opus sank like a carefully planned sarcophagus to the bottom of the sea. That’s what happened to the Vasa, the expansive 17th century refueling ship of the Swedish navy, that sailed only 1300 meters (less than a mile) on its maiden and final voyage. Today the Vasa Museum employs archivists, docents, and scientists tasked with its preservation. The ship’s carved detail and intricacy is second only to its breathtaking scale (over 50 meters tall and nearly 70 meters long). Its spectacular failure as a seaworthy vessel is what guarded the Vasa from historical obscurity. Had the ship made it into open seas, saltier water and shipworms would have eaten it away. Instead it lay beneath the water awaiting rescue, for more than three centuries..
As I wandered the Vasa Museum, or as I like to call it, Sweden’s Fail Monument, I took comfort that someday, some stranger might find my work buried beneath the ocean of content proliferating around the world, and then, I pressed on writing.