Thursday, December 4, 2014

An (Emotional) American Mountain

In Spain, a roller coaster is known as a “Russian mountain” (una montaña rusa). The “Swiss mountain” atop Monte Igueldo in San Sebastián is an exception—legend has it that Generalissimo Franco himself chose this unconventional nomenclature because he didn’t want to name anything after the Russian Communists. Meanwhile, here in Russia, you might think a roller coaster would just be called a “mountain,” but you would be wrong. To really confuse me, the Russians say “American mountains” (американские горы), and I  still haven’t found a Spanish mountain.  Whatever you want to call it, a roller coaster is the best metaphor for how I have been feeling about writing lately. It’s like, “Well this sounded fun at first, but now I can’t really get off because I’m plummeting toward the ground, so I guess I’ll just vomit instead.”

Spain’s Swiss Mountain (“mountain train” in Basque)
Photo credit: Donosti’s newest resident, the lovely Marti Buckley Kilpatrick

For the last month, I have been getting farther and farther behind on my writing schedule. The end of the week rolls around and I have yet to re-write another chapter. I go to the library, Lenin’s faded portrait looks down at me mockingly, and I stare at page upon page of mediocre writing that looks to have been written by someone who has never read a book in her life. It kind of feels like I’m attempting to put together a puzzle without the box that shows you what it’s supposed to look like—except I have 60,000 words instead of puzzle pieces. And I hate puzzles.

A friend asked me if I was suffering from Writer’s Block, which I don’t even know if I believe in. If I had to diagnose my affliction, it would be more like Writer’s Depression or Writer’s Low Self-Esteem. Or maybe just “Not Actually a Writer.” Whatever it is, it’s the kind of emotional state that makes me want to light my laptop on fire. I very well may have done that if not for the fact that the woman who monitors Hall 2 at the Lenin Library would likely light me on fire if I tried doing that on her watch.

Then last Wednesday, just as I was about to go to bed, I got an email from my first male critic that included feedback on the first 60 pages. There was plenty of stuff he didn’t like, but there was also a lot he did like—and even more surprisingly, plenty that I liked as well. I discovered sentences I don’t remember writing that were actually quite good, and some bad ones that I realized I knew how to fix. I spent the morning of Thanksgiving incorporating his changes (and hopefully making my male hero a little more masculine) and actually felt excited about writing for the first time in weeks. We’ll see how long the ascent lasts before I’m back to wondering why I ever decided to get on this stupid ride.
“Every so often I get a tug on my sleeve [to write fiction]. It’s kind of awful. It’s so hard. It means you’re going to be immersed in it for a very long time. When I get that nudge, I kind of feel like, ‘Oh, fuck.’ Because it means it’s going to be two or three years, and I’m going to have terrible self-esteem the whole time, until I get to the very last draft.” – Anne Lamott
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” – George Orwell


  1. "I turn down the volume on my inner critic -- I extend myself the same compassion and forgiveness that I readily extend to others whom I love very dearly."

    This is an affirmation for your writing self. You're probably going to think it's very cheesy but I think they help sometimes.

    And just so you know, I am very excited to one day buy your novel in a bookstore near me!

  2. I came to your blog after googling oligarch and entourage for a bit of novel research. And then I just kept reading, because I enjoyed your wry voice so much. Will you write an amazing novel? Who knows. I hope so. I'd like to read it. But in the meantime, never doubt. You're a writer.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Wendy! It's been quite some time since I wrote this post, but as I get closer to finishing yet another draft of the novel, it's nice to get additional encouragement. If I can be of any help with your novel research, do let me know! I'm heading back to Moscow for the summer (and may even revive the blog for a special summer edition).