I had coffee last week with my friend Liisa, a teacher with one of the coolest jobs I know as a coordinator for the Poetry in Voice recitation competitions. We talked about a friend of hers who has a book in flux, and about the dangers of “how’s your writing going?”
It’s a tricky question. Ask at the wrong time and you might have a blubbering writer on your shoulder.
It’s also an impossible question. Because unless a writer has just sold her latest work to a major publisher in a six-figure, six-book deal, the answer is never going to be “fantastic!” And realistically, even if she did just sign a major deal, she’s probably already stressing over books two and three.
I wrote a thousand words or so yesterday. A decent writing day. But I’d hesitate to say my writing was going well because the work I did may or may not get included in a finished manuscript. It may prove hopelessly tangential, or disgustingly self-reverential, or simply unnecessary upon revision. Or, saying it’s good might give me delusions of granduer and leave me unable to write a thing for the next 30 days.
It’s all a bit silly, I know. But the core problems with “how is your writing going” are these:
1. Writers are hopelessly superstitious,
2. Writers are often trying, unsuccessfully, not to analyze their work… not yet; and,
3. Writers are never satisfied.
If I ever meet Margaret Atwood or Michael Ondaatje, I’ll ask how their writing’s going. Maybe they know the secret. But I’m guessing they’ll choose some variation of what we all say:
“Oh… it’s going.”