These days, I’m blogging here and I’m writing in my Moleskine journal–but I’m not writing my novel. I want to write my novel, but it’s just not happening; I’m either forcing something that doesn’t belong in the novel and/or I am on the brink of a breakthrough. Or I have to just admit that I don’t write well at all in the Summer.
There is a small part of me that says “That’s okay, you’re still writing,” but the rest of me is completely discouraged and self-condemning.
I have friends who write everyday–they write through the blocks and they turn in complete novel manuscripts within a year’s time. That is so not me. There are writers who take ten years to write a novel–that’s more like me. Writers-who-take-years-to-write-a-novel are traumatized by that creative timespan. We are asked “How’s your novel coming along?” way more often for starters.
I think part of the pressure comes from the fact that most writers don’t talk publicly about the dark parts of writing–the blocks, and the days you sit in front of your computer and all you do is revise one damn paragraph. And the days you sit in front of your computer and you can’t think of a single idea. Or the day you sit in front of your computer and you delete every single word you wrote in the last four weeks.
We writers like to, in the public eye, present writing as “magical.” We like to prolong the myth of genius. That the words come out of thin air and shine with brilliance on the page. There are movies that show writers in action–like Katherine Turner in “Romancing the Stone” tearing her hair out while writing (but that typing never stops, does it?) or Nicholas Cage in “Adaptation” (okay at least there, writing block is accurately depicted–for like Charlie, I often negotiate brownies as reward for words written). And I love the depiction of a writer-gone-astray by Michael Douglas in “Wonderboys” (but even then, he’s written an over-long novel, and again, the typing doesn’t stop). But those are stories–stories don’t happen without Something Awful happening–and the Something Awful for a writer equals struggling with a long project. But even in movies, the writing happens, and no one in real life likes to talk about those horrible days and horrible weeks and horrible months where the writing doesn’t happen. Because it makes us seem less than perfect. Because it makes us look stupid. Because it’s tragic.
So in sum, I feel imperfect. I feel stupid. I feel tragic.
So there’s that.
And then I think in my case, my novel is waiting for me to grow up. This novel and its story is bigger than I am. And I wonder if I fail it, every day. Even on my best days, I fear to fail my novel.
In my worse moments, I think that even if I don’t finish this thing a lot of good has come out of it–my novel has made me a better person. It has stretched me. It has been the thing that drove me to recover from my stroke. It has been the thing of so many lessons learned–lessons that I could not have learned any other way than facing a blank page and exploring worlds with the goal of seeking understanding and communicating understanding. It has made me grow up. It has given me comfort. And it has kicked my ass. Everyone needs a good ass-kicking now and then.
But on the worst days, I look at my novel and wonder if I should walk away from it. The only things that keep me from walking away is the incredible encouragement I’ve received from my writing mentors–and my amazing writer mentors are not men or women who give out encouragement lightly. So I keep at it. On my very worst days, my mentors save my novel’s ass.
So for now, I am gestating, in more ways than one. The words and ideas will come. It’s just summertime, I guess, when writing traditionally doesn’t happen for me.
7 responses to “Stuck”
Whelp, there’s only one thing to say about this: I FEEL THE EXACT SAME WAY. Tragic. Stupid. It’s all my fault. Cause it is.
I think the frustrating thing is that it ISN’T your fault! It’s the strange course of creation.
I really appreciated this, Christine. I don’t know if I’m gestating, I at least hope I am, and though I’m stuck, it was good to hear I’m not alone. 🙂
Great post, Christine. Love the idea of slow writing progress as gestation. Got me thinking about those tables I’ve seen somewhere — in a junior high science textbook, maybe, or an encyclopedia? — that show different species’ gestation lengths, and elephants are always at the far end with these insanely long gestation periods, like 2 years or something. Well, we could make a chart like that, only the last category would be “writer” and there could be a picture of us slow writers.
@Melissa: More writers need to share the struggle! Because it ain’t easy.
@Naomi: We once joked at Hedgebrook what it would be like to have a reality show of writers at a writing residency–and then we started cackling, because that would be the most boring reality show, ever: we’d just be sitting around in our pajamas, staring at our computer screens, and doing nothing else. 😉
This! I have two works in progress now because of exactly this. I was making no progress on the first, let my mind wonder, and have been obsessing over character and world development for another novel for over a week now.
So I figure I’ll keep staring at blank screens trying to plug away on both. Perhaps you need a side project for the days your ‘too big’ novel isn’t moving? I could be the exception though. I have trouble focusing on one idea for very long.
@Paige: you can do it. 🙂 Yes, I’ve got side projects.