Friday, April 04, 2008

Journal of a 'Novel'-Entry 43

Irons in the Fire

Up until now I have still been having a lot of trouble getting back into the writing of my Indiana novel. It is difficult, once you have been away from a writing project for a while, to get back into the flow of it. There’s no switch to flip that will get you back into that elusive rythmn, so important for writing a long work of fiction. For weeks now I have been wondering if I lost the touch on the project and if I was going to have to consign it to the large pile of failed novels from my past life – too numerous and unimportant to elaborate on. In my last entry I even claimed – prematurely, as it turned out – to be back at work on it, but the fact is that I wrote one scene and again put it aside in favor of another (short-term) project.

At least I can say I haven’t been idle. I don’t like to languish as a writer, and I try hard not to. On the contrary - I now have four pieces out in the world looking for a home in print. Most of which I have mentioned before, but I will group them together now and also indicate, just for kicks, where I have sent the pieces, hoping to find a generous editor who will accept them for publication. ‘Sling It’, my essay that portrays the recently retired football legend Brett Favre as a ‘literary inspiration’, is under consideration in Sport Literate magazine’s ‘Football Essay Contest’ for 2008. ‘Start Something’, a short story I wrote in 2005 concerning a single young man with a heart for poetry who has an unexpected and violent encouter on an overnight business trip, has been submitted to Relief: A Quarterly Christian Expression. ‘Auto-Response’, another short story that is under consideration at Narrative magazine (and was unfortunately rejected earlier by Glimmer Train), is about a family man in the earliest stages of grief over his father’s death (also on a business trip, I have only just noticed!) who has a curious accident in a snowstorm. And finally I have just submitted my essay (see recent post) ‘Hope on the Wing: Encounters with The Innocence Mission’ to Image magazine.

This may be a personal record for the most pieces I have had ‘out there’ at one time, but I know a few times before I have had three pieces out, and most of the time I end up going 0 for 3. Not saying 0 for 4 will happen here. But if it does, the good news is I am used to it. If it doesn’t, well, I would consider one placement out of 4 a successful effort, and anything above that would be extra. I believe in all of the pieces. I may as well go on the record and say I expect at least one of them to get accepted. But we’ll find out in a few months if that expectation was justified.

Unfinished Business

The only reason I started on some of the pieces I mentioned above in the first place is because I was having trouble getting back into the novel to work on Chapter V. But the hiatus got out of hand. In particular the essay on The Innocence Mission grabbed me full throttle and wouldn’t let go until it was written, so it made more sense to devote the necessary time and effort to getting that done than to avoid it any longer. As soon as that was done, however, I felt restless and frustrated – my novel was, and remains, unfinished business.

But I didn’t have any confidence I could easily enter that world again. If nothing else the experience of trying to get a novel off the ground gives me plenty of respect for those who write even one of them, let alone 10, 15, 20…I honestly don’t know how these writers find the stamina or the time to write their books. The problem for me has been that each chapter has taken about 3-6 months just to draft, and after that you have to revise and rewrite, revise and rewrite….the revision process never ends. Even if I had financial independence and nothing but time it would be damned near impossible. With two jobs and almost three kids, forget it!! And yet, the work calls to me as it always has. There I was with a prologue and four lengthy chapters in draft and about two years of writing invested in this novel, and my confidence was wobbling. Could I honestly throw in the towel again? It seemed possible that I had crossed a line you couldn’t come back from. As my brother put it in an email, by way of ‘encouragement’, ‘I don’t care if I have to pick up the pen myself and finish it, it’s going to get done.’

Well, we certainly can’t have that, so it’s back to the grind. (Just kidding, Duke.) Chapter V is another mountain looming before me. It may be the largest one yet. But three days ago, I went to the foot of the mountain and simply started up again. It’s funny, because it was a day – and I do have days like this – where I simply didn’t want to work on it. I didn’t feel like it, I was tempted to just read or putz around on the internet or whatever. I had to force myself to go down there and pull it out. Which is exactly what I did. Sometimes you just have to say to yourself, ‘If you do not take this out and get started today, it will never get done.’

The amazing thing is that in spite of the fact that I had gone almost 6 months without feeling at all like I knew where it was going or how to continue, as soon as I sat down to it again a few days ago, the process kicked back in and things started to happen. I worked steadily on it that day and have again for the last two mornings. A workable plan of attack for Chapter V almost immediately came together in my brain, and I jotted it down in a margin of the manuscript. From that point on, it became a matter of following the plan and making adjustments along the way. Which is exactly how I have written the other chapters. What’s the point? Only this: the plan had no possibility of coming together until I started to work on it. The process of writing creates its own momentum, that’s why many writers refer to it as ‘organic’. It propels itself, you just have to kick it off and learn how to let it flow.

Now, I have a lot in the plan for Chapter V and it is going to require more months of work – not weeks. It will not be easy. Add to that a new baby here in about 8 weeks and it will become maybe twice as hard. I don’t feel that there is any guarantee that the work will get done to my satisfaction any time soon. But I know somehow that it can happen. And I have learned the lesson once again that persistence is the most crucial quality for a fiction writer. You have to sit down and bang it out. It is, literally, the only possible way.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Your experience reminds me of a story by my college teammate Josh Cox, who is now a professional marathoner. He writes convincingly about the existence of the Running Muse, who will bestow her delights on you if you catch her on runs. But she never meets you on the couch, only after the first corner. I can totally relate, and at this point I hardly pay attention to how I feel at the beginning of a run. It's often not until 3/4 mile or more, that my stride will lighten and lengthen, and the fun begins (though it doesn't happen every day, but that's part of the deal).
So the Writing Muse likes to play similar games! I am very happy for you to be so encouraged!