Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Finish the row

I got to hear one of my favorite all time lines again today. You put your hand to the plow and finish the row. It’s from HBO’s Iron Jawed Angels which I’m showing my students right now, and it has always spoken volumes to me from the first time I heard it.

Writing is hard. It’s work. Sometimes it’s not even fun. But it’s worthwhile.

It’s worth something.

And even as I sit here still wrestling with the whole getting started on the novel I haven’t touched in years thing, trying to find the will and the motivation and the reason to get over my exhaustion, filing and sorting and reading and wonder why I’m doing this, I look at the that line and it speaks to me.

So once again, as I’m mired in the seemingly endless minutiae of starting, I’ll offer up another little snippet of mine.

It was interesting for me to notice that these last two snippets have been devoid of dialogue. I like writing dialogue. It’s how I write. And I’ve been told that I do it well. That it’s a strength not a weakness in my writing.

But for whatever reason, there’s none to be found here.

Maybe next time.


Arms crossed tight against her chest, she rolls tight shoulders and cracks her neck, leans forward to rest her forehead against the cool, clear glass.

Her head aches; a low, dull throbbing behind her eyes that’s a bassline for the quiet hum of monitors in the almost silence of the room.

She doesn’t like it. It’s not the silence of her lab, not comfortable or comforting, doesn’t wrap her safely in her own little world.

She shifts slightly on her feet. Her eyelids drift open as she lifts her forehead from the glass, and drags a long, slow breath down deep into a tight chest.

The first muted red-orange streaks of sunrise brush the purple-pink sky on the horizon; reflect in the dark, placid surface of the pond spreading in a slow, gentle curve within the spill of green between building and service drive.

She stands and stares, shoulders curling forward as she wraps herself more tightly and tries not to think.

Doesn’t think about the cold, sick fear hollowing out her gut as she dragged him to the car, shoved him into the passenger’s seat, and drove, white-knuckled, as if his life depended on it through cross-town traffic, scrambled for the surgeon, heard the results from the lab and knew what they meant.

She shoves the heels of her hands hard against her eyes, brushes angrily at the tears that threaten.

This isn’t right. It’s not fair. She doesn’t understand and he’s not here to make it better.

The first spikes of yellow climb over the thin horizon and she lifts her chin, catches movement out of the corner of her eyes.

She catalogs without thinking; black face, white chinstrap, elegant black neck; goslings with fine yellow-brown feathers gliding along the calm, dark surface.

Canada geese. Mother and father, a mated pair for life.

She tilts her head; clear-blue eyes tracking the baby as it tips its body, dips its head under water.

One of the adults runs along the surface of the water, gains lift for takeoff. Slow, deep wingbeats carry it aloft as the rest of the family takes flight. She shifts slightly and lifts her chin, watches their graceful arc over the trees through the tops of her eyes.

The soft hiss of the monitor pulls her focus back. She turns and stops; stares at the unmoving body sleeping on the bed. It’s suddenly colder in the room and a small shiver works its way though her.

She forces the first small step, listens to the click of her heels as she crosses the room. A small, steady hand reaches out, settles on his chest, and she feels his heartbeat through her palm. Her breathing slowly synchs with his as delicate fingers trace his brow, trail down along the line of his jaw.

She folds herself into the bedside chair, slides her hand over his, fingers curling loosely around it as she watches him breathe.


  1. Wow. You always paint such a vivid picture. it makes me want to get to the heart of the conflict, to see the resolution.

    I know you write dialog well but I think your powers of description rank alongside your dialog.

    Of course, that's my humble opinion.

  2. Thanks. You always make what I've written sound so much better.

    In truth I look at what I've written sometimes and wonder where that elusive line between great description and purple prose is.

    It's serpentine and difficult to find sometimes, and I'm not sure my inner editor always does find it.

    So I happily rely on you.

  3. I don't think you have to worry about purple prose here. This is fantastic!

    Who says YOU need dialogue!

  4. Thank you for the very lovely, kind words.

    It’s funny about dialogue because that’s how I write. I have to hear the scene or the characters before I can do anything else. So I always end up writing either snippets of dialogue or pages of just dialogue with tags or descriptors because if I can’t hear it, I can’t write the rest of it.

  5. I know exactly what you mean. I LOVE dialogue. It always jump starts the story in a way I can't find with description.