The fresh arrangement came with a new title, Love: A Definiton. Fire alarm bells should have gone off but I persisted, egged on by a soothing sense of serenity. My goodness, the story was starting to come together, this matched that, it was practically writing itself, this time. Insert Twilight Zone music here:_________________. It was eerie, the feeling that I had managed somehow, against all odds, not to write another crummy draft. To take this mystical mumbo jumbo to another level, I had a lurking sense there was someone else in charge. And there was, my alter ego, Bad Writer Eufemia (BWE for short) had taken over. BWE was smoking Camels and blowing smoke rings. She was calm, cool and compiling sentences like born scribe. She said things like, "It'll work, trust me."
I listened. I followed her lead. I was feeling lost and looking for a way out. I behaved like a squid squirting ink in an attempt to escape, clouding the page with murky phrases and half-baked thoughts. With my spine shrunk two inches shorter than it had been at the start of the day, I finished that version of the story and sent it off to Ayelet Tsabari and Mona Fertig. Lying awake in bed, I felt every mistaken word weighing on me. I ran through every botched sentence and blundered syntax again and again, at one point saying out loud, "Love: a WHAT? Oh dear god, no."
In the morning, I rubbed my eyes open and stared at the books on my shelf in a tired daze, pleading like Princess Leia, "Help me, authors I adore, you're my only hope." No one, I was certain, in the history of humanity, had ever committed such crimes against the written word. An anti-mantra, one designed to disorient and discourage, began running through my mind, a repetition of "When will you understand? Why don't you understand?"
The problem lies deep within the desire to be a dazzling-nothing-short-of-breathtaking writer, where I take myself apart over and over, as if I could reassemble everything into the Bionic Woman Writer. Better. Stronger. Faster. It probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone that this method doesn't work, and in fact gets in the way of the real work to be done, every time.
I sent a follow-up email. In the subject line I wrote, 'Please ignore what I sent.' Both Mona and Ayelet replied quickly, saying the story was coming along but that some of the recent changes were weakening the piece. Their reactions were kind and generous. This is support and community; writing would be painful without it. To have people that you trust-if you're lucky, other writers you admire-read and offer feedback is part of the process that is both feared and loved. It can feel like a battle between the two: choose love. For me, this is the only thing that blunts the time spent in BWE's company. She lurks. She looms. She's quite the sparring partner, deceptive and determined. The rules of writing engagement dictate that she is always armed and ready for a fight. Every day at the desk feels like a fencing match, I never know who will win. That's fine. I have excellent editors on my side.