Run Through the Wall

Run Through the Wall

Trying to finish my novel has brought me a great deal of anguish and uncertainty. I just can’t seem to stay with it long enough to finish. The novel is done but the rewrites seem endless.

I hope this self-reflection will propel me. At least, this is my intention. I have always traveled a rather circuitous route through life. Straight lines bore me. I am attracted to chaos. The chaos of a wild ocean, a rainforest canopy, a cavernous underground mine. I didn’t sail through college. I struggled to stay interested long enough to graduate. My first marriage ended not because I didn’t love my wife and my daughters but rather because I was restless. I was less restless in my second marriage because I found ways to occupy my mind. But it too ended. Not in any usual way but in tragedy. And I was left to pick up the pieces. I did. I picked up the pieces. A handful of broken pieces. For a time, I tried to put them together through the stories I wrote. Short stories. In writing terms, they came and went quickly, which suited my urgency to fit the pieces together. And they helped fill the emptiness. Writing the novel did as well. But the rewrites are too straightforward. Too pragmatic. And are meant to satisfy someone else’s needs, not mine. Namely my editors and publisher. They have specific things in mind. I just want to be done.

Everyone hits the wall one time or another in his life. It is painful and scary. Can I get through it? What is on the other side? More of the same? More pain? More sorrow? Why go on at all? It is easy to quit. It is the easiest thing in the world. I have done it enough to know. I don’t want to quit on my novel. It deserves my best effort. I have no way of knowing how good or bad it is. Is it special? Yes, only because it is authentic. Anything authentic is special. But is it really authentic? This is what has me blocked. I believed it to be authentic when I wrote it, but now because of so many alterations, so many outside influences, so many other opinions, what has it become? I realize that no novel worthy of being published can be said to be finished after the first draft. It just isn’t done. And mine is no different. I’m not suggesting that at all.

What I am wondering is when do ideas stop being art and become form? Maybe this is why I have always admired architecture. It is art as form. Should all art try to copy architecture? Should artists strive to create form instead of aesthetics? Should a novel be more concerned with the storyline than the notion of beauty and pain and heartache? Broken pieces? What is the duty of a novelist or painter or composer? I contend the artist’s only duty is to be authentic to himself while telling his story.

And so like an athlete who pushes himself to his limits, the artist has to find the edge, has to hit the wall. And find the courage to run through it, even as he is pushed and pulled by outside influences. Believe me, this is no easy task.

Andy Warhol said, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

This seems like sensible advice for an artist, but it’s easier said than done. Like anything worth doing, art must meet certain standards. First off, it must stand out. In order for it to stand out, it must be different, it must be unique. Is it enough just to finish? I don’t think so. Not if certain standards aren’t met. Artists aren’t sprinters, they are marathon runners. They hit the wall all the time. And they must find the courage and tenacity to run through it.

While it might be true that the artist shouldn’t concern himself with what his critics might say, how can he avoid it? What is said about his art is the standards by which he is judged. The readers and critics build the wall.

In many ways, it is easier to hit the wall while running a marathon than while writing a novel. Physical pain is more endurable than mental pain. But hitting the wall is both, both for the runner and the writer, both of whom must ask themselves if they have anything left? Can they go on? Have they spent everything they have? Is the outcome worth the pain they must endure in order to finish? Is it just damn stubbornness that propels them? Or is there a strong need to see it through?

The hardest thing for a writer when he hits the wall is to discern art from a failed attempt at it. A runner knows he has x number of miles to go to finish the marathon. A writer knows too he has x number of pages left. But what about what has already been written? Is it any good? A marathon can be looked at in the same way. Is it enough just to finish? What if the runner has fallen well below his desired finish time? Does it become a matter of the runner’s will over his pain? Or does he have an excuse to quit?

I have finished every marathon I’ve begun. Is this an accomplishment? I don’t know. Should I approach my novel with this same dogged determination? Again, I don’t know. No one much cares that I’ve finished every marathon I’ve begun. Hell, I don’t even care. I can’t tell you how many I’ve begun. The same holds true of my novel. If I put it away forever, no one will care. If I finish it, the same is pretty much true. No one will care. The people who read it will get something out of it, I’m sure. They might get a little enjoyment from it. Or a moment’s pause to consider something that I wrote. It won’t be anything earth-shattering or revolutionary. I won’t have saved the world from total destruction. I don’t have that kind of power. Nor do my words. I can only offer a little hope in a world of despair. The reader can take my words to heart or leave them behind. The reader, you see, is running his own race and will come up against his own wall. Everyone does. And everyone will run through it in the best way he knows how. It is what we do. Really, it is the only thing we can do.



  1. Perhaps the push to propel onward comes not from within, but from without. Spiritual guidance is there for all. Sometimes we entertain it, sometimes it is forced upon us. Regardless, it comes. Our “job” is to simply accept the guidance. To resist is futile per Captain Kirk. Much more energy is spent swimming up stream, clawing to hold on, attempting to pull ourselves back to the comfort zone from which we were so jarringly torn, sticking with those familiar old ways, safety, when in fact we will end up down stream at our designated destination after all. Might as well have saved the energy for the battle up ahead. Will you be prepared? ready for this new chapter, this new “room” just newly opened in our soul? We may think not, but again, the help is there, simply ask. And so I arrived. You are safe. And, by the way, the view from the doorway to this new room is glorious.

    • Thank you for your response, Celeste,

      I found your perspective interesting. I agree with you that guidance comes to us in many ways and many forms, and we don’t always recognize it when it comes. I also agree with you that we claw and fight to regain what we thought of as safe and familiar. After my son and wife died by suicide, the life that had become comfortable and familiar to me was gone. I could turn away from the future, continuing to live with a sense of doom, or I could embrace the blank canvas in front of me to create a new life. I continue to miss my wife and son, but I have made every attempt to paint a new life for myself. It is a struggle at times, I must admit, but I am still filled with awe at the magic I find at every new twist and turn.

      I am not sure what you mean by preparing for the battle ahead. And I don’t know how to answer your question, “Will you be prepared?” Is this a generic question? Or an ecclesiastical question?

      The path to the future is never clearly defined. None of us knows what lies ahead. I suppose this is why it is important to stay focused as much as possible on what we can know and understand, and that is simply what our brains interpret as “real.” We call this the here and now. Of course, this is dependent upon the concept of time, which confuses me. Is time just a human construct? I think it is.

      The “block universe” theory states that space and time are part of a four-dimensional structure where everything that has happened has its own coordinates in spacetime. This would allow everything to be “real” in the sense that the past, and even the future, are still there in spacetime – making everything equally important as the present.

      MIT physicist Max Tegmark says, “We can portray our reality as either a three-dimensional place where stuff happens over time, or as a four-dimensional place where nothing happens – and if it really is the second picture, then change is an illusion, because there’s nothing that’s changing; it’s all just there – past, present, future. We have the illusion, at any given moment, that the past already happened and the future doesn’t yet exist, and that things are changing. But all I’m ever aware of is my brain state right now. The only reason I feel like I have a past is that my brain contains memories.”

      Thank you for your response. I truly appreciate you taking the “time” to read my post.

  2. Yes. I have struggled, like you – with writing. Feelings of inadequacy, fear of whatever. But it was never there at the beginning. It came, first when I joined a literary group and my writing seemed to tell a story of my own evil… that restlessness that I wanted to put on everyone else but fingers pointed at myself – secondly when I began editing. There were/are blocks at every turn. So many pour it out as did I, like you – but then the structuring seemed contrived and it disgusted me. Nothing fell into the right place and pictures interrupted me. I was angry because I felt – I stopped painting… if I paint/draw – it will only take more time and the frustration grew and my own quitting nature abruptly stopped.

    I often wondered if I was writing about my third husband. We were both wound tightly with the world around us – unsettled and, at times, alone with one another. He died, by his own hand – the tools of his trade – his own medicine… this and that to cure what ailed him, never stopping or trusting always looking outside. My own fear grew in intensity. I’m rambling… you have me thinking and I appreciate this. Not many do.

    Suicide – it’s an ungodly way… my own brother, also. I never imagined because I saw only anger rather than his own underlying fear. It’s a monster that makes you feel so all alone. I wonder if it’s not universal.

    Thank you for stirring that idle brew inside myself.

    • Thank you, Yvonne. I agree, we can’t always see the beast, or the pain, or the utter sadness, inside of someone else. And all of us struggle with our own demons, our own sadness, our own terror. Does this mean that we really can’t have a meaningful relationship since we are so tortured and twisted inside? No, I don’t think this is true at all. I think this whole notion of loving oneself is a bit simplified and overstated. We need human contact, we need to love and be loved, we need to hold and be held. It is true, we are critical of ourselves, but if we ever hope to be better human beings, this is critical. I do believe we can reach a level of accepting who we are, of finding that state where we seem most at peace. But then something always stirs us up. At least, creative types as you and me. We erupt with the passion that is inside us. And it is hard for us to understand, not everyone is like us, not everyone has a caldera of passion and creativity simmering inside of her or him. Does this make us freaks? In some ways, yes. This need to create, to say something, to scream at and try to shake awake the dullness of the world, to paint a canvas so wild and brilliant that it can’t be ignored, to write a story that will leave the reader staring wide-eyed at the page, what is this?

      And suicide? What can be taken away from it? I think about it. I hold it in my back pocket. It is secure there, and in many ways, it gives me a sense of invincibility. With this option, I am untouchable. It is mine and mine alone. No one can force this on me, no one can take it away from me. I have total control. In a world of absurdity and chaos, it is at least something I can control.

      I am not ready to play this card yet. I have things boiling inside of me, things I need to scream to the world. There might not be anyone out there listening, but that’s all right, if I scream loud enough, someone will hear. You heard. And I hear you. So we know at least there are two of us. And sometimes that is enough.

      Thank you for listening, Yvonne.

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