Friday, December 16, 2005

Introducing Mutt's 'Journal of a "Novel"' - Entry 1

One of my favorite books about writing books is John Steinbeck's post-humously published 'Journal of a Novel', which catalogued the writing of his epic 'East of Eden' (1952). As any Steinbeck crony knows, this book was a collection of letters that Steinbeck wrote to his editor, Pascal Covici, on an almost daily basis during the writing of the novel. He likened these letters to a pitcher warming up his arm before taking the field. After writing the notes, which discussed his progress in the story and also touched on the broader issues/concerns of his life at that time and the world at large, he would dive into his daily 'work' on EofE, averaging about 1500 words a day.

I have decided that am going to attempt to use this blog as my 'Covici', and write about my next fiction project, if I can do it without laughing or causing too much laughter. I want to catalogue my own progress towards my planned "novel" about Depression-era Indiana and fictionalizing my grandfather in some way in a story. But i have to put "novel" in quotes. I've never written a novel, and have no reason to think I can get one published if I did. Yet, I DO think I am capable of writing one, as I've said before. And I may as well try. It's what I'd really like to do in life, therefore I have to make an honest attempt, and I just can't see why now isn't a good time to take it on. I figure by cataloguing my own progress here, as Steinbeck did in an earlier form of communication, I can motivate myself to keep going by making my thoughts quasi-"public". And as any writer knows, anything that motivates one to keep going through the blocked, uninspired periods is worth its weight in gold. (Let's hope I keep ridiculous cliches like that out of the novel.)

When I speak about taking this on "now", let me be clear, I mean starting now, but make no mistake, if I ever finish this project, it will certainly not take weeks or months. It will take years. In essence, what I am doing by writing this post is committing myself to a LONG term writing project. It can be abandoned, of course, if it does not work out (gazillions of previous novel attempts have been ditched by me - one went at least 300 pages). But there's no question that this is the beginning of what must be a serious commitment. Why would I take on such a commitment? Is it even realistic when I just had my second child, I work full time, and write one hour a day if I am lucky??

My only answer is that I don't really feel like I have much choice. I really want to write a novel. I am really drawn to the material of the life of my grandfather, an oil distributor who was raising a family of six children in the 1930s and 40s and who died oyung at 58 in 1961, nine years before I was born. And i just instinctively feel - or if you will, my heart tells me - and this is the most important thing i have to say here - that THERE IS A STORY IN THAT MATERIAL, AND I AM THE PERSON TO WRITE IT. It may be, as I told my brother Duke the other day, that this is part of what I am called to do while I am living on earth. It may sound grandiose, but if it is, than why have I been trying to write fiction consistently for the last FIFTEEN YEARS, since I was 20 years old, in response to impulses I have to do so?

So, let it begin. It will be a long ride. I can't wait to get started on my reading 'research', as I noted in a previous post here. I have no idea what the story is, what it will be all about, but those subjects will be explored as i research and later on as I begin to write the book.

Which brings up my final point. 'Journal of a Novel' is not a really long book. Steinbeck was not planning the novel when he wrote those letters. He was already in the writing phase. I may be six months to a year from ever laying down a word of a first draft on my story. My journal will also catalogue the research period. But I want a place to air out my thoughts and to begin planning the book. So if i realize this dream, in the end this journal will catalogue both the planning and the writing of what may - one never knows - turn out to be the artistic achievement of my life to date. If i can see it through.

I want there to be no doubt from the beginning on this: I TRULY BELIEVE I CAN DO IT. So stay tuned if you want to see if I can.

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