After has been going better than it has been in months. A while ago, I said something about it to a friend and she said, “oh, so you’re still writing it?”
Yes, I’m still writing it.
I’ve just stopped talking about it, because I ran out of ways to spin my lack of progress.
I’m about to start my first draft again, from the start. It’s maybe the 6th or 7th time I’ve done so, but I’m hoping that this time might be the last. I’ve thrown out or can’t use over a hundred thousand words of material. It’s frustrating, and it’s depressing, and there were a few months there were I was frighteningly close to hating the whole project. But I’ve never stopped writing – and I have no intention of that changing.
One of the walls of my bedroom is covered in post-its. I have spreadsheets and documents and flow-charts and note cards, and I still – almost a year later – don’t know how my first act should run. So I write it, and I write it, and I write it. So far, one scene – the first scene I ever wrote, months and months ago – is the only scene that stays constant. Months ago I was blogging about trying to find the feel of the universe, and in some ways, I’m still there. Some days it feels like, if nothing else, I’ll surely eventually exhaust all the ways this story shouldn’t go.
I hope so. I don’t know for sure, but I feel close. What I wrote this week – every day after work in the library – feels real. The worst part is that once I get out of the first act, I have a solid outline. I how the rest of the story goes, I just can’t work out how to get these people colliding in the right ways – and how to make the prose feel the way their world feels in my head.
But I’m closer.
It doesn’t sound like much, but it is. I always think of Patrick Rothfuss, who said — roughly — in response to fan complaints about how long it was taking him to write The Wise Man’s Fear, “You know I have to make all of it up, right?”
Honestly, it’s huge. I’m excited.
It’s funny, at this point, three years in, really knowing what it means to write a novel. To still want to write novels. To have a job where I’m paid – well – to write stuff that, if not all that interesting, is definitely satisfying, and know that I’d still rather be sweating and agonising over my laptop. Ruining my posture and my eyesight and my social life for people who don’t exist.
The idea of the tortured writer, hunched in a dark room with a bottle of whiskey and their own misery, probably holds a grain of truth. It’s a satisfying process – an amazing, rewarding, incredible process – but it’s not a fun one, a lot of the time. You struggle through the horrible days where you’re grinding out horrible words you know you’ll delete tomorrow, to get to the days where something clicks, or surprises you, or a recalcitrant character starts to talk back. Those days are incredible. On those days, I remember why I do this. Nothing else – nothing else – feels as good as that. My stomach churns and my hands shake. I get so excited I feel physically sick.
It’s a drug, essentially. And sometimes the hardest part is that I can’t share it with anyone – I can’t show you how it feels, and no one in my life will ever be able to be part of those moments, or feel it with me. The best moments of my life are always going to happen on my own.
Which is okay.
But just because I’m not talking about it doesn’t mean I’ve given up, or ever will give up. The opposite.
It doesn’t sound like the most positive recommendation, I know. It’s not really. There’s a reason that so many published authors’ top piece of writing advice boils down to “If you can do anything else, do that instead.” The idea of novel-writing as this creative fiesta, a giant free-for-all of conjunctions and characterisation, is as crazy as the maudlin drunk crying over a typewriter. Writing a novel, producing hundreds of pages of carefully structured story, is more science than art, and more slog than science. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to truly master a skill, and at this point, I’d tell you that even more than creativity and talent, it takes being pedantic, more than a little obsessive, and obstinate to the point of insanity.
But most of all, it needs to be in you. It needs to be part of you. You need to have no choice.
So that’s where I’m at. And right now it’s kind of awesome.
NB: all quotes not ACTUAL quotes, as I’m WAY too lazy to find sources. The second one is definitely attributed to David Foster Wallace at least, but I also feel like Maureen Johnson has said it well too. WHERE she might have said it is a MYSTERY. Everyone loves a mystery!