Is your writing dying?

Every single cell in the human body replaces itself over a period of seven years. That means there's not even the smallest part of you now that was part of you seven years ago.  The Raw Shark Texts, Steven Hall.

Word count: 334    Reading time 1-2 mins.

This means that there is still hope for the novel that I started writing seven years ago. Over the course of time, it has been revised to the point that very little of the original text survives.

This novel has become a bit of an annual tradition that coincides with spring. When the cherry trees flower and sunny forsythia brightens even the dullest day, a sense of renewal, of a fresh start, buoys me. So I revisit the languishing saga. Every year, when I open it again, it feels like I am administering CPR to a failing body.

In December 2010 at the 92nd Street Y in New York City writer-artist Lynda Barry and illustrator Maira Kalman spoke about their artistic processes. In particular, they talked about how a piece can feel like it’s dying and how rescuing it is what makes it work.

“It’s literally every day, I’m dying, it’s dying,” Kalman said. “Then something happens and it’s like, 'OK, it’s going to be OK.'”

To me, that’s what perseverance and rewriting is about; it’s digging for the moment when everything feels OK again. Just this week my writing partner, who has probably read the entire seven-year-old novel three or four times, suggested a change at a pivotal point in the story. It wasn’t how I imagined the narrative unfolding but as I revised, new perspectives on the story opened. (Thanks, Allison!) The branch of the cherry tree that looked lifeless last week is now covered in blossoms.

Is there a manuscript sitting on your shelf that you have abandoned because it looked, to all appearances, dead? Should you try to breathe some air into its lungs and hope for a ROSC (return of spontaneous circulation)? Could yesterday’s fallow ground open with flowers?

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Photo: Cherry Blossom in Branch Brook Park, NJ by Siddharth Mallya from Wikimedia Commons