Write? Re-Write? Or Give up and Eat Ice Cream?

Kage Baker, being a ferociously self-disciplined person where writing was concerned, was determined to write every single day. And she usually did, too. Even if it was only an hour or two of editing, even if all she got in was a few paragraphs at the end of a day of performing or traveling – Kage wrote.

Despite the rigours of an often crowded and noisy household, she wrote; between cooking, doing laundry, gardening, or while a dozen other people decompressed all around her from  14-hour day of being Elizabethans or Dickensian characters; she wrote. Christmas Day, 4th of July, her own birthday or mortal illness: she wrote. In a year of 365 days, Kage usually wrote on 360 of them. I know, because I counted.

When asked how she maintained such discipline, Kage usually denied that it even was a discipline. She liked to write – it was what she wanted to do, so it was easy to sit down and do it every day. But that was a self-imposed blindness, that I think kept her from from feeling trapped or oppressed by her schedule. It’s true she liked to write, and it’s just as true that – usually – there was a part of every day when it was all she wanted to do. But she deliberately did not dwell on the times when she was willing to do ANYTHING other than sit down and write.

This is the wisest of all courses for the dedicated writer, even one as inhumanly determined as Kage. To write, you must write – nothing else works. If you have to close your eyes to the times you decided to re-file your CDs in order of the birth date of the composers – well, that’s cool, too, considering all the days you wrote for 22 hours out of 24, or decided to work to the diurnal schedule on Io.

The times most to be desired are those times when one MUST WRITE: the OCD times, the Muse-in-Fury-mode times, the hours when the loving hand on the back of your neck is wearing its mail glove and shaking you like a terrier with a rat. That is possession, that is being an Aolian harp, that is being a trumpet hung in the branches of the trees where gods sing.

It happened more often to Kage than to most, I think – but it does happen to every writer now and then. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, or are not. Quality of writing is not the only thing that makes a real writer. It’s the need to write, especially when inspiration puts the spurs to you. If it doesn’t ever happen to a writer, then that person Just. Stops. Writing. And if it does, they never, ever stop.

These last few days, that frenzy has been building higher and higher to me. It’s bliss, it is ecstasy. It is spiritual fulfillment, the kind you can urge others to try but never explain to them. So why am I bending your ears, Dear Readers?

Well, partly because this blog is supposed to be about writing some of the time. And because I am ablaze with the energy of revelation and zeal. And because of the peculiar states that accompany this one, the weird conditions you find yourself in as you voluntarily shackle yourself to the keyboard.

I wrote for hours last night, pounding out a much-delayed and critical scene in the Blue Squirrel Story that has been making me nuts for weeks. And then, all the while I was asleep, I went over and over it in my dreams. And I hated it. It stank. It was embarrassing even in my sleep.

Many sleep experts (and other people) say you cannot read in your sleep – it’s supposed to be a sure-fire way to tell if you’re dreaming. Well, that’s a load of bullshit. I read in my sleep all the time. Last night, I was reading the horrible section I had just written, off a stone panel on a pillar, where it was carved in the Roman alphabet – not in Latin, thank goodness, but still no J or K or Y … man, it was a mess. And I had to keep running around the pillar to see it.

Anyway, I woke up detesting the entire section, and leaped straight back into it as soon as I re-booted my brain today. Swigging coffee and banging away, I carved up the loathely section and wrote it over from scratch. Scenes sank and reappeared with sea changes; motivations and reactions collided, formed new elements and decayed into daughter isotopes I had not imagined.  I like it better now, so much better that I kept on going and have added several hundred words to the story.

In a fit of apprehensive housekeeping, I  then checked the word count – I’ve been working so deeply on this, I had no real idea of length. I was afraid that was intended as a plump short story was now approaching novella length – and at that point, you always have to start wondering uneasily if the new-born beastie’s legs will be strong enough to hold up its body. Can it walk? Is it terminally bloated? Do you have to figure out where to cut this baby in half in order to get even one happy mother?

But no! To my astonishment, it’s still right on the far border of a story. The first draft will reach novelette length ,no question at all; but it will not be a huge misshapen mess! It may still be a mess, of course, but its size will be workable: I have not lost control of my output, as I had so feared.

I am floating in relief and satisfaction. I have been persuaded to eat some dinner, and there is strawberry ice cream in the freezer with my name on it. All I have to do is decide what to do next … write? Re-write? Or eat ice cream?

I know what Kage would do …. so I’d better go get some wet wipes to get the ice cream off the keys.



About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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