Saturday, April 21, 2007

Scratching . . . . and Scrabbling

No, not scratching an itch.

In fact maybe not only scratching. Maybe scrabbling. Maybe both.

That's what writing a book is like.

In The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp talks about 'scratching' as "the first steps of a creative act." They are, she says, "like groping in the dark: random, chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight."

That's the scratching part. The scraping together raw material, digging your fork or trowel in the earth and coming up with loose bits you can see have potential (and a lot of bits that, frankly, don't). It is "like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward."

Yes. In fact, in capital letters, YES!

But I think for me the process continues throughout the whole book. Maybe it does for her, too, in choreographing a dance. I don't know. But I do know that once I've got an idea, a toehold, it's not a clear shot up the mountain. Sometimes I''m in the thick of the forest and I can't see where the top is. And sometimes the damn mountain is so steep and so nearly vertical that it hasn't got a single tree -- or anything at all to grab onto.

That's the scrabbling part. That's where half-way up I look in every direction for the next handhold or toehold and go, "Ooops. Maybe this wasn't the right way."

In fact I did that once with Flynn and Sara. And I went back down and started again. I found a better set of toeholds, ones I was more comfortable with, ones I thought I could use to find my way to the top. They were new and they were challenging. It wasn't a well-traveled thoroughfare, believe me. But it seemed to work.

And now I'm halfway up the mountain and I've just taken a bend around a corner and I'm thinking, there's a toehold or a handhold or something here somewhere. I just have to find it. I might even have to scratch again, scrabble a little, dig my fingers in.

I'm hanging there now. Contemplating a patch of green (very very green) just a little further up. Ireland, as a matter of fact. I just have to get there -- and get Flynn and Sara there with me. But first I have to find the toehold -- or scratch one out that I can use for traction, for a step up.

I'm working on it.

(But I'd rather be baking something with rhubarb.)


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