I started on my novel again Monday. I began it during my winter break from mid-December to mid-January, then took a hiatus during school. I’ve been home for summer for about a week, but spent most of last week finishing final essays and creative writing assignments for classes and proofreading a literature magazine.
It felt great to hit the page again.
I’m going back to the beginning, editing to where I left off and resuming with all the threads in mind. It’s about 50,000 words now, which is about the length of The Great Gatsby. I aim to make it about 100,000, the typical soft-cover length.
So far, working on the novel has been hard but rewarding, especially since I’m neither a professional writer nor do I know what I’m going to do with it. But it begs completion. That’s enough.
This is my second novel. I wrote one for NatNoWriMo–a.k.a., National Novel Writing Month. Writer Chris Baty and his friends started NatNoWriMo to force a deadline on novel writing, a project that tends to stretch and absorb years. As he wrote in his book No Plot No Problem, “The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It’s the lack of a deadline.”
Chris Baty, as seen from his book
A few of us in a creative writing club ripped through NatNoWriMo in 2010, but we cheated and moved it to Christmas break. By the end of 30 days, a few of us had 50,000+ words chiseled and taped into a (semi)coherent narrative. A novel.
We could be as pretentious as we wanted to be with impunity.
Next year, we did the same thing. We were a smaller squad. One of us made it. Others didn’t, including me. Instead I had about 45,000 words and a notepad laced with new ideas and edits to make. I wasn’t upset. One of my friends was writing a novel without the whips and whistles of NatNoWritMo. His personal travail inspired me to forge into uncharted territory, writing beyond the confines of a deadline.
I think I was ready. I’m committed to its completion and I’m enthralled by the process. I hope to finish the first draft by year’s end, which is reasonable, I think. I’m a discipline writer. I have a good sketch of the plot. I have the time.
So far, it’s been a learning experience. Here are five basic things I’ve realized:
1. Most people don’t understand. I can’t say anything to my parents and non-writerly friends beyond “I was working on my novel today.” A brief, mundane conversation generally follows.
2. Even many of my writerly friends don’t understand. Writing a novel is one of those things that you can’t abstract. It’s a simple process: write, imagine, rewrite, repeat. Incessantly. For a very long time.
I’m a big hiker and I think they have the same trait: one can’t imagine the scope a simple action takes when its stretched by length and intensity. One or two miles are easy. Fifteen miles through rocky terrain is not. Writing isn’t the easiest. They can picture that. But writing 50,000+ coherent words is diabolical.
3. A novel takes over. For about two or three hours per day, I’m devoted to the novel, sitting in my room–or wherever I can find–and writing. Sometimes I turn the internet off. I always shut my door. Sometimes I ignore the phone.
But for the rest of the day, a toe or two remains in novel world. I think of characters and situations, writing them in a notebook I stuff in my jeans’ back pocket. Or I ask myself, “What would [insert character name] do about this?”
Personally, I love this.
4. Writing a novel, like anything can be painful. I’ve found at least three breeds of pain involved with the enterprise. Most common, writing’s usual aches don’t leave: writers’ blocks, shallow inspiration, shitty drafts, self-loathing, wrestling with words for days, etc., are there to stay.
Second, sometimes life gets in the way. People want to see you, work needs to get done, your usual writing time gets absorbed. Sometimes you just need a rest. But writing requires devotion, and devotion can be a painful thing.
Third, existential angst and genuine hard feelings can surface. I’m a sensitive person and get attached to my characters–although love is off the menu–so when one dies or suffers, I feel it. Or the genuine questions posed against life, often dug up from my own reflections and experiences, can raise doubts, some more painful than others. Moreover, they can stir up memories.
5. Writing a novel is incredibly rewarding. I think this goes without saying, but the sheer fulfillment gleaned from the work on a good day, or after a draft’s completion, is a powerful thing, the hydrogen bomb of self-accomplishment.
Sometimes, it’s like a drug. Addicting.
I’ve always thought writing about writing can be fairly asinine, but I hoped someone enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. It’s certainly given my project some structure and purpose.
Good luck on your own writing.