11/12/2010 05:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Making of a Novel: When Writing is an Emergency

In her book Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints, writer Joan Aconcella makes the point that art is always an emergency. I loved that line when I read it, and it popped into my head today, because I feel desperate about needing to keep working on my book. Everything else feels somehow diminished, somehow less important. I feel safest, and most alive, and most centered, when I am working on my new story.

I also received a call today from a writer who is desperate for some help with her novel. She was panicky, and said she was sorry about making her problem feel like an emergency. I suppose she thought that my work coaching other writers is always calm and orderly -- but nothing could be further from the truth. Working with writers feels like being an on-call doctor in an emergency room. Someone might be having a crisis of faith, or a crisis of communication, or a crisis of narrative, and all of it feels important and urgent and necessary -- to the writers, and also to me, because I know just how they feel. I know just how it is.

Writing is best when it feels like an emergency.

Oh -- and some people asked about the book I was listening to on tape. They wanted to know if the story was redeemed in the last few chapters. The answer, sadly, is no.