The writing deadline I gave myself seemed expansive back in January: complete the first draft of a novel by year’s end. But as we creep up on Halloween, that draft remains listless and sprawling, even though the idea, hatched years earlier, still inspires me. There’s something there, I still believe, and I’ve got 10 weeks to get myself to some sort of ending.
I put mediocre words on paper in service of a first draft deadline, knowing even as I write them that they’ll have to be jettisoned. That my own writing sometimes puts me in the mood for a nap cannot be a good sign. Where is the magic? Where is the emotional truth? The keen observation? The aha insight?
Into these doldrums comes Emmett, twelve years old, and the personal narrative he has just completed, his first writing assignment in middle school. He chose to write about the Vermont ropes course.
The fresh Vermont air smelled like what the Earth should smell like, pine cones and wild fruits. The air was also infected by the smell of multiple people sweating. I saw a tree swaying inches below the platform I was on. The area was a forest and everything was green, except for the ropes. I suddenly realized my climbing gloves were coming apart. I knew I had to finish as quickly as possible.
I reached the third net with sweat falling off me and hitting the ground far below. I struggled to keep my grip as I crossed the net. Through my tearing gloves I could see how white my knuckles were. I was wondering what was more white, my knuckles or Dracula’s face, when I heard a cheer from my brother. He had finished the holed wall. He was on the easiest of obstacles: a rope with a ring that you had to swing on. I reached the end of the third net. I didn’t think I could go any further. “Don’t quit! Don’t quit!” I hissed at myself.
He reminds me why I love writing: you can lead someone to feel something deeply. You can place someone not only in a particular space and time, give them the touch of wind and cool air on their skin, the smell of soil and trees, the blisters budding on palms, but you can also lead them to an emotional place, can make them see themselves in someone else’s experience, can recognize their common humanity. I love writing because it is a treasure hunt, searching for a nugget of what I am hiding from myself.
I shake out my body, stretch my arms and legs and get back to it. I search for treasures, trying to trust that if I don’t find them on this go ’round, I’ll be closer to them the next revision. “Don’t quit! Don’t quit” I hiss in unison with my boy.