Because I write memoirs more than any other genre, the work I usually do involves a great deal of memory-searching, and as a natural consequence, at least an equal amount of reflection upon those memories. In turn, this reflection opens emotional doors for me as I look back upon many moments of my life; surprisingly frequently upon moments that I had not thought about for many years. This can be a difficult process to navigate - for example, reliving my final harrowing moments with my father - or it can be much more enjoyable, such as the sheer unparalleled joy of becoming a father. The ride is unpredictable because the memories that I access and recount can occasionally emerge unbidden, but I don't want to use the cliche of 'roller-coaster'....oh damn, I just did, didn't I? That kind of emotional consequence is a natural part of the memoir process (as well the ever-present wish that I'd kept diaries) and I engage with these projects expecting to be buffeted by feelings - old and new - from time to time.
The other kind of emotional journey is that which seems to accompany the writing process itself. My writing - when the brain's blood flow is adequate and undimmed by a genetic predisposition to lie down and fall asleep - can at times come very easily, and at other times be a regular, three star pain in the buttocks (yes, only three stars - let's not get overly dramatic). I've been sitting down and determinedly glaring at my computer in order to eventually commit words to print for more than three years now, and I'm starting to get a third-person handle on my approach. It's dominated by three main features.
- I'm habitually lazy, and frequently have to bully myself to the office to work on my days off from the day job.
- I worry endlessly about the quality of my work, and live in perpetual anxiety about being unworthy.
- If my brain isn't up for the job on any given day, I see nothing good from trying to make it so.
Which brings me - sort of - to the place that I find myself at present. It's that point where the book is two thirds complete, and I begin to itch to more thoroughly draw together the elements and to tidy up the loose, untidy parts. I already - with much of it still unwritten - want to revise, improve and create something more tangibly complete. In this phase, when I sit down in front of the computer I'm eager to be faced with a more complete book - something which pulls me towards the finish - rather than a project which is in actuality quite some time away from being the work that I am happy with. Sometimes, reality sucks.
I recognize this phase, however. I went through it - pushing hard at some points - with Signs of (a) Life, and came out the other side of it with something I was pretty happy with (although No.2 above always applies). It's now helpful to know that 'a phase' is all that it is, and to understand that there is a completed book lurking somewhere on the other side of it (presumably dressed in a long overcoat and Fedora, smoking a cigarette). It's a period when, for me, the creative side begins to struggle a little; the enthusiasm for the project wanes somewhat, and the light at the end of the imagined tunnel starts to dim. Last time around it scared me. The last time, I thought it was the end of my work; I thought I might never climb out of that particular hole. Now, I'm much happier to say, I know that I can find my way upward and onward.
There's another project going through the same process, too. At times such as this, it helps me to have multiple pieces of work up in the air, waiting for me to grab at them, do some work on them, and then set them hovering around my head once more. It's sustainable so long as I have a major work ready to fall back into - I need that goal to pull me towards it. My inculcated Catholic guilt thrives on unfinished business...
What pleases me most about the developing awareness of my own habits and processes is that the desire to write is undimmed. I'm still, after all, on that road towards leaving a legacy for my descendants; something from which people I will never meet may one day be able to glean some insight into the character of their ancestor. I believe that I'm the only member of my family to ever embark on such a legacy project, and - selfishly - I like that idea. Perhaps this will be my tiny, teensy-weensy way of being 'special' - that thing I always yearned for as a child.
Becoming familiar with these emotional responses also tells me something else: I'm sticking at something which I originally thought may be a one-shot wonder. However, I've been doing this long enough now to have repeated experiences to fall back upon, and to reflect upon and make use of. Whether I ever sell enough books to reach the ceiling or not, for me this is part of being able to describe myself (if only to myself) as 'a writer'.
I think I might just do this for the rest of my life.