Well, I am not ashamed to tell you that I spent the better part of today tied up in knots. At 4 am last night I finished typing the essay that was to appear in this space, and when my daughter woke me up at 7 am to begin the camp prep and shuttle, I quickly logged on, and zap, the essay was gone. It burns, doesn't it? The glare of that big blank screen shadowed with words that you only faintly remember?
Actually I had written two essays during my marathon work day, both now lost, and 8 more are on the queue before pub date (now 9/4). The essay I wrote for SheWrites had shriveled into the ether and with it, whatever nuggets of information I thought would be helpful and informative about publishing a second novel with 13 days to go. When I tried to regurgitate the essay, I couldn't. I spent the day thinking about what I wanted to say that you haven't heard 9,000 times. What could I give you that was different and of value?
Ten weeks ago this seemed like a fabulous challenge. And it has been. But as the days begin to move more quickly, and things in my world begin to take on a lightning bolt quality, when I'm still more comfortable sharing the quandaries rather than the good and unexpected things that are happening for The Salt God's Daughter, I'm aware that my inner editor is slicing and dicing. In place of the lost essay, I offered SheWrites' Krissa—God love her—a post consisting of helpful links I'd found this week. I told her I wouldn't be at all insulted if she wanted to bypass me this round. I thought about asking a friend to guest post, but I didn't. I made a commitment. Period. To rise to the occasion, and I will. I tell my kids to do it. This is how I was raised. We are builders and artists and social workers in my family. We commit. We work. We help.
Krissa politely accepted my quieter half-baked second offer to submit my essay a day late. I turned to some close author friends for inspiration, and then began clicking around FB and Twitter — within seconds I felt like a gawker on the 405 highway after a pile up—the issue of critical reviews is a hot topic in the wake of an inordinate number of assaults going on against authors; there were authors making rules and lists for other authors whose rules and lists were obsolete; there were people delighting in snark and flicks of the wrist; some were defending their lives, their morality, and their right to write. So, what is it exactly that I want to tell you today?
Have the work pulled out from under you leaves you a few choices but today I find an element of strength in the assignment at hand—because this is what happens to a writer every day, whether anyone's expecting anything from you or not. We must show up and render ourselves truthful and breathless on the page. Having worked in publishing for 15 years, I know our task is to shine on in challenging circumstances. And we do, oh we do. And yet sometimes what is called for is a little less shine.
Sometimes you just have a hankering for authenticity and nothing less will do. I happened upon two pieces of writing that inspired me—a blog sent by a friend. And an essay from a new author about her childhood. I read the words of these women and I was inspired and filled with gratitude. I even whispered: "Thank you, thank you for this," and "I wish I were that brave," and here's the clincher: "How amazing it must be to say exactly what you want to say! How lucky these women are that they get to tell the truth!" What showed up was honesty. Was courage. Two things I find more prized than pirouettes and flicks of the wrist.
I "liked" and "retweeted" and spent about a half second interrogating myself about authenticity before reminding myself that this is quite simply the reason I got into this business in the first place—a passion so fierce that I have dedicated the last 25 years of my life to it.
So, this is what 13 days to go looks like. Thirteen days to go looks a little less shiny but somehow more real, not to engender holiness but because it is what is required of this woman at this time. It looks like 4 am writing stints and lost essays. It looks like a brisket cooking in the oven and three children waiting for their dinner as a mother types. It looks like a daughter who's wholly nervous about entering middle school and a mom, who's equally so; it looks like a son who has grown into a different creature in one fleeting summer. It looks like travel arrangements for a quickly ballooning book tour. It looks like a husband's cold compress on the back of his wife's neck on a humid day in August. It looks like both losing and finding one's way again through this deep forest, and rediscovering what brought you here in the first place—words.
It looks like a woman who feels incredibly grateful to have lost an essay.
Ilie Ruby is the author of The Salt God's Daughter (forthcoming from Counterpoint/Soft Skull 8-21-12) and The Language of Trees (HarperCollins 2010). She has written for the New York Times and CNN and teaches writing in Boston. You can connect with Ilie on Facebook and Twitter, or on her website: www.ilieruby.com.