It’s 4:21 a.m. There’s a pain behind my right eye.
The damn thing’s woken me up again. My novel-in-progress (or lack of progress), that is.
Because even though I’ve published three novels and been writing professionally for over twenty years, I have no idea how to write this novel.
There are fragments. Scenes I absolutely adore. Characters ready to burst out of my brain, Aliens-style. But I don’t know where these bits belong. Why they belong. How they fit into the whole.
I wish some writer could give me a neat, EASY answer.
For now, I’m grateful for those who are honest about the hard parts of this process.
While there are authors who make this novel-writing thing look as easy as throwing a cake together (apologies to cake bakers), I appreciate those who share the sweaty, anxiety-ridden truth about the messy, mysterious, maddening process.
There’s Jacqueline Woodson . . .
She wrote: “You’re writing, you’re coasting, and you’re thinking, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever written, and it’s coming so easily, and these characters are so great.’ You put it aside for whatever reason, and you open it up a week later and the characters have turned to cardboard and the book has completely fallen apart. That’s the moment of truth for every writer: Can I go on from here and make this book into something? I think it separates the writers from the nonwriters. And I think it’s the reason a lot of people have that unfinished manuscript around the house, that albatross,” which Laurie Halse Anderson shared on this blog post.
Later, Jacqueline Woodson tweeted, “My book is falling apart. I should keep writing but grabbing a towel & heading down to the water. Maybe the answer will ebb in with the tide.”
There’s Sherman Alexie, who, during a talk in front of a thousand people at an S.C.B.W.I. conference, admitted to waking in the middle of the night with insomnia because of his struggle with the words.
There’s Sharon Creech, whose books I so admire for their simplicity and their heart. She shared this wonderful photo of the reams of paper/vision and revision/perhaps 4 a.m. wake up calls that were required to produce her latest effort.
This is what she wrote about that photo on her blog:
“three years of work
of one book:
The Great Unexpected
(due out 4 September)
By the time
I reach this phase
it's a bit like having been pregnant
for ten months
and I am thinking
I did the best I could do
I love it
GET IT OUTTA HERE!”
Thanks God for honest writers!
Because at 4:19 a.m. (It’s 5:33 a.m. now) with this pain behind my right eye that’s slowly fading, it feels like I may never find my way through this elusive tangle of words.
But I’ll gently remind myself to breath: “Breath, damn it!”
I’ll remember I’ve been in this uncomfortable place before. (It’s why I hesitate mightily before beginning each new novel.)
When the book is finally written and rewritten – because it will be – I’ll relish the feeling, no matter how fleeting . . . until it’s time to write the next novel. And the next.
And it’s all exactly as it should be -- this crazy, wonderful writing life. Even the messy, uncomfortable bits. Maybe especially those bits because they are what make us human.
Back to it now . . . because sometimes the only way is to write your way though.