Cinthia on Saturdays: Diary of a Novelist

Another new feature here at 49 writers — we introduce a tired, late-night-writing Cinthia Ritchie (pictured in our guest bloggers’ picture column to the lower right) who will be chronicling her novel-writing adventures on alternating Saturdays.

by Cinthia Ritchie

I can’t stop cleaning.

I’m not sure how this is possible since the house is such a mess. Nevertheless I am on a cleaning binge, wiping counters and scooping crumbs, vacuuming floors and getting down on my hands and knees to spot clean the doggie prints from the white rug.

I am so happy as I clean. I hum. I sing. I dance across the kitchen floor with the dishrag swinging merrily over my head.

I’m happy because I’m not writing. Because the more I clean, the less time I have to write.

I’m stuck in my last novel chapter, you see, and I have no idea how to get out.

So I scrub the bathtub, wash the couch pillows, lovingly wipe the dust from my palm plant. There is so much to do! It could take me days, weeks. Months.
I could, hypothetically, swipe counters and wash laundry forever, though in my heart of hearts I want nothing more than to finish my book, print it out and send it off (send it off!) to the holy hands of New York editors, who wait for this accession with folded hands and designer shoes.

Yet this procrastination pleases me greatly, not the fact that I’m not writing, which I anguish over every second of every day, but the childish sense of satisfaction I get by avoiding my book. I often impress myself with the clever lengths I take to justify this not writing.

“The refrigerator smells,” I’ll say to myself as I begin unloading food across the counters. “I really need a haircut,” I’ll say as I get in the car to drive to the beauty salon and veer into Carr’s to load up on sugar-laced muffins. “J.C.Penney is having a huge sale,” and off I’ll go to the Fifth Avenue Mall, even though I hate to shop and will spend most of my time trying on shoes and worrying about my inability to walk in heels.

It’s almost as if two halves of myself are battling it out: Write. No, clean. Write, no, take a nap. Write, no, watch a movie.

I want to write because I love writing, because it’s always been my dream to publish a book, because I truly believe that somewhere lives a woman who needs to connect with me through my words, who needs the comfort of my characters, much the way I’ve been comforted through the words and characters of the authors I’ve loved best.

I don’t want to write because writing is hard, because it forces me to examine parts of myself I’d rather leave untouched, because it involves so much failure and sacrifice and time, and really, one can only take so much.

So I write. And then I clean. And write some more. And clean some more. It’s like yin and yang, like Hegel’s thesis /antithesis theory: The pendulum swings one way, and then it swings another.

I write, and then I don’t. Then I do, and then I don’t.

If the don’t are longer than the dos, well, no matter; according to Hegel, that will soon even out.

Perhaps he is right because finally I sit down at my desk. My hands fumble over the keyboard, my eyes close and really, it is like sex in a way, the waiting, the sense of anticipation, and how you have to center yourself sometimes (at least if you’re a woman; at least if you’re not in the mood), how you must concentrate and block everything out. How it can be hard work. How it can make you sweat.

Then it happens, I am writing, my words flowing and it’s good, yes, it’s hot and sweaty and good, and even as I lean excitedly forward, my hair scattering over the keyboard and tangling in my fingers, even as I am in the scene, writing strong and pure and right. Even then my fickle mind teases me with images of the car.

“Honey,” it says, “Wouldn’t you rather be outside cleaning the mess from the backseat?”

The truth?

I would. And I wouldn’t.

Cinthia Ritchie is a former Anchorage Daily News feature writer and columnist who writes for Alaska Newspapers. She’s the recipient of a Rasumon Foundation Individual Artist Award, the Alaska Council on the Arts Connie Boochever Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize nomination plus residencies at Hedgebrook and Hidden River Arts. Her fiction, essays and poetry can be found in over 30 literary magazines.

2 thoughts on “Cinthia on Saturdays: Diary of a Novelist”

  1. You’ve beautifully captured that love-hate relationship we have with our work. I have an opposite problem with endings – rushing headlong into and through them, knowing even as I type that it’s horribly inadequate, I have to get there so I can start fixing it. Not sure what that says about my sex life…

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