Diary of a Novel: June 18

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Life is weird. Sometimes it’s weird in ways that make you feel like you can barely stand up under the weight of it. And then sometimes it’s weird in ways that lift you up and feel a little bit like flying.

I should have been almost done with the novel I’m working on by now, but another writing project took precedence the last week or so. That’s all okay. The other writing project isn’t fiction and sometimes it’s good to shift your head into an entirely different sort of mode. The novel will still be there, waiting for me.

And when I get back to it, the novel will be sort of new, which is always a nice thing. Time is an indispensable tool for a writer. More often than you think, the best thing you can do for your writing is just to leave it the hell alone. Walk away. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Forget you ever wrote it. Let it marinate in the passage of time and when you go back to it, you’ll be able to see it more clearly. You’ll be able to see what’s good and also where you went wrong. You’ll see the things you were doing without really knowing you were doing them at all.

So time off is good and in the moments when I’ve not been working on the novel, I’ve taken to picking up my guitar again. That’s something I haven’t done for years, after a period in which I acquired no less than eight musical instruments in the space of six months or so. And then I let them gather dust.

But here’s what happened. I went to update our phones–my husband’s and my own. The two new phones looked exactly alike, and so the woman at the store put a guitar pick in one of the boxes so I’d know which one was mine. The pick says, “Thank you for picking TCC.” I don’t know what TCC is. The store, I guess?

At any rate, there’s a guitar pick which ends up on our dining room table for a few weeks. And then somehow it migrates to the bookshelves next to where my guitar sits. Pick + guitar. Why not? Sometimes that’s what it takes. A random drift of objects in your house.

A minor is my favorite chord. When I play an A minor chord, it satisfies a need I’m not even aware I have most of the time.

Playing guitar is an act that must be written onto your body. Your fingers have to develop calluses as they press on the strings. I have always loved this about the guitar. The music is tattooed onto your skin. I like the feeling of rubbing my fingers across the calluses over and over again. As they thicken, I feel myself joining a family. A cult. A community. I feel myself stepping inside a world filled with people who make music–people who have always been there for me.

Writing and playing music are very different but not completely unrelated. Jason Isbell writes stories and lines that I would kill to have come up with. “She didn’t want a better attitude.” “Nothing but the blue sky in his eyes.” “These 5A bastards run a shallow cross.” But you can’t take those words away from the music. They belong to each other.

Music feels older and deeper than words. We sang before we had language. We’re not the only ones who sing. The universe hums and croons. I feel a little bit of it with the guitar held tight against me when I play an A minor chord.

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