Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Martha Nichols on writing and that week in her Boston neighborhood

I often startle awake in the middle of the night, editing a piece of writing that doesn’t exist. I stare into the darkness, still recasting sentences in my mind.

Last week in Boston, I woke up every night in this ghostly editing mode. Within moments of opening my eyes, I couldn’t remember what the writing was about or why I kept going through the motions. The night of the bombings, it had to do with book reviewing. I think. On Saturday, after my family visited the memorial for the victims downtown, I was sure I understood something BIG, if only I could change this word, this paragraph.

It was a surreal week. Awful. The deaths and injuries, the days of wondering what the hell is going on are we safe oh please, the five-city lockdown during gun battles a mile from my home—none of it made any more sense than my dream creations.

And yet, I’ve come to realize that those struggles over phantom words are never wasted. Writing is how I organize my thoughts. Revising is how I figure out what I don’t know. Even going through the motions, in my sleep—in the constantly evolving and unraveling stuff of dreams—I’m grappling with some nebulous thing that may eventually surface.

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