I am writing a novel. I’ve written one other novel, and a novel-in-stories. They both took me a decent amount of time to write, but for some reason in my memory I can’t remember how difficult it was to write them. I think this must be something akin to what I’ve heard from some of my women friends who have had babies. After you’ve given birth, slowly but surely, you forget how painful it was, and soon enough you find yourself pregnant again, and it’s only while pregnant that you remember all of the discomfort and then of course the, well, labor. The work that goes into bringing something into being.
It’s obviously an overused metaphor for the creative act, but I find it apt; and the more books I make, the more it feels resonant, particularly the part about labor and discomfort. When I’m writing a book, I tend to get spacey. I’m thinking about the book even when I’m having a conversation with someone. I forget to eat meals. I have to leave notes for myself to remind me to go to the gym, to buy groceries, return a library book, pay bills. My talking-to-myself periods go on the rise. No, I’m not singing a song in my car when you pull up beside me and see my mouth moving through the window. I’m probably enacting a bit of dialogue between two or more characters and trying to see if it sounds right when said aloud.
My life, when writing a novel, tends to be lived half here, in this world, and half there, in the world of the story I’m writing. It may sound interesting or romantic to some, but it’s really a sort of annoyance, to me at least. Life is lived much easier when one can focus, when there is not a pull for attention between so many varying people, real and imagined. But beyond all that, I’ve found, in writing this third novel, just how much you really do learn how to write a novel all over again with each new book. They all have their own rules, their own characters and plots, their own magical essence. And you can only try to respectfully figure out how to tell them as they must be told. I know this isn’t how every, or maybe even a lot of, writers think of making a story, but it’s the way it feels, as a process of creation, to me.
I started the book I’m working on during the summer of 2004, then moved to Japan, where I promptly put it away to begin the book I published this past year. When I came home two years later, finished with the book I wrote in Japan, I wrote a few short stories, then turned back to look at the beginning of this novel. It was a strange experience, seeing the beginning of this book with new eyes after a couple of years in Japan (the same way it felt coming back to Ohio, after a couple of years of elsewhere). But I quickly got interested in it again, and started writing forward in it. And have been ever since. Granted, there have been periods in the past few years since I took it up again where I worked on other things (revisions of first and second book, pre-publication, for instance, as well as writing the occasional story), but I kept coming back to this new book after any of those projects were brought to completion.
But the going back and forth between projects has definitely stretched out my writing process with this book, as well as provided me with plentiful insights into my writing as I’m doing it in this way that has given me periods of pause to come back to the book and continually see it almost with a bit more distance than I usually have when creating a first draft.
But it’s also been frustrating, wanting to sink down into the story for days on end, rather than working on it in carefully collected hours and minutes. And it’s made the feeling of labor sometimes a bit more conscious than I’ve felt at other times. Probably because it’s taking longer.
In any case, I’m over the 80k mark and well on my way into the last third of the book, which is a good feeling. And already full of ideas for revision to earlier chapters, so I think the transition from finished first draft to rewrite and revision will go smoothly when that time comes.
It’s been a trickier book for me to figure out, too, as I gave myself some new things to figure out how to do in a book, and they’ve definitely presented me with challenges. I know that as soon as I finish it, I’ll fondly remember writing it, because it will be over, but right now I want to take the opportunity to leave myself this little message, in which I can perhaps remind a future me that, if he should decide to write yet another book after this one, don’t expect it to be a totally painless experience.
And if I choose to do it again with that in mind, well, bon voyage, future me.