The Joy Menu #7: Novelgazing
Your intrepid author finishes a novel, and tries to figure out what's next. (Celebration? What is that...self-care?)
This week was a big one for me. After years and pages and grey hairs worth of false starts (and false middles), I finished a draft of a novel.
Though the story deals with events I experienced way back in high school (last century), I started it again—in earnest—last April, after my 38th birthday (celebrated in early days lockdown; I’m still waiting for your card) and wrote it through the hardest, strangest, most uncertain days of the Corona Spring, a months-long saga of possible layoffs (that I avoided, luckily) and the intensity and hope of the BLM protests through the summer, and the mounting demagoguery of national leaders flirting with fascism as the election neared this fall.
294 pages. Just shy of 100,000 words.
There is never a ‘good’ time to write a novel, and because this was the worst time, it ended up being the best time.
Now the actual work begins: of trying to make it good. (Don’t expect any excerpts or teasers here for quite a bit).
What did I learn in this strange process?
I learned that…
I’ve always been afraid of my own literary shadow—writing poorly, writing to no one, writing things that no one cared to read. I had to let go of all regard for audience or consequence in order to just write.
Only by writing poorly—not purposefully poorly, but without regard for good or poor—was I able to write through my stumbles and blocks, rather than succumbing to them.
I very rarely want to write, but if wanting to do something were the decisive factor in whether or not I did it, I’d also be malnourished, sleep deprived, and unemployed.
There’s no great mystery to writing a long story, you just plod along every day for many, many days—denying yourself the usual excuses and writing anyway. (For, say, 200 days; at least in the case of this long story).
Delving into your deepest, most long-buried, and least-understood traumas can cause quite a few gloomy days and bad moods. But if you want to fill a cavity, first you have to dig beneath it.
Completing something twenty years in-process can feel a lot like...just another day. It can be difficult to celebrate wins. At least for me. (If you have a suggestion for something other than a pizza party, I’m all ears.)
In the end, I’m proud of myself, I’m excited, and I’m ready for what’s next. It’s not often we catch our long-elusive white whales—and so it’s especially nice when said whales don’t thrash us to death in the process (sorry, Ahab).
In honor of lessons learned, and whales washed ashore, I’ll close this week’s missive with these wise words:
"Genius is full of trash." — Herman Melville
Or, in my own variation:
“Don’t f*ck with genius; just write your damn novel.” — Joey Rubin
See you in 200 days. (Or next week).
Onward to creative joy,