There are a lot of new directives in my life these days, all to a good and healthy end. And so I thought to myself, if everything is on a timeline and I’m to be so disciplined, I’ve got to do the same with my novel manuscript.
Truth be told, I’ve been revising rewriting my novel-in-progress like it’s a day at the spa–with languid leisure. A page here, a page there. An occasional chapter. When I’ve come across a bump in plot or character, I let the mystery wash over me and then when the uncertainty became too uncomfortable, I’d go do something other than write, something other than stick to my chair and computer screen.
Writing has been a daily part of my life, but the great urgency I felt after my stroke (as only a brush with death can achieve) to finish a draft of my novel-in-progress, the very thing that got me to finish a draft, has been languishing for some time.
But I am now once again writing with exigency. Because I have to finish a major rewrite of this novel by the end of 2012. Because if I don’t finish a major rewrite, I’ll have deep regrets, and any discomfort I feel now as I navigate the interstitial spaces of my novel is going to be nowhere near the pain I’ll feel next year when I look at a half-finished novel revision.
I am the slowest writer I know. Writing with urgency for me means muscling through the pain and making a deep commitment to stick with my manuscript even if tomorrow is another day. It means I am still a slow writer. It does not mean writing two thousand words a day, because for me, five hundred words a day is a good writing day. But I know I can and will do it.
So I’m making it public: I’m finishing a major rewrite of this novel by year-end. That gives me about seven months, which I think is completely doable, even at my elephantine writing pace.
When non-writers people ask me this question, no matter how sincere the intention, I hear it spoken in an impatient or mocking tone, ala Stewie from the Family Guy (so painfully hilarious). 
Non-Writers People ask me about my novel a lot these days. Of course they do–I quit my tech job last summer, and I’m on sabbatical from my teaching job (yes, I had two jobs for awhile), and my life is to now write/revise my novel everyday. It’s clearly my passion, and they’ve no idea what else I must be doing.
This question is asked of me every time I’m at a cocktail party. As a conversation opener. And about 30 seconds after I’ve crossed the threshold of my former office (and my husband’s current workplace). They ask about my novel, even before they ask how I’m doing.
“Hey Christine! How’s your novel coming along?”
My non-writer friends, when they hear me whine about this, say, “At least people care.” As in, “It’s a normal question.”
Do you really all care? Will 100% of you really buy my book when it’s published? Do you know what an agonizing query this is? One that makes me feel tired and self-doubting and judged and scared and naked? One that then makes me feel guilty, because I do understand you ask out of good intentions, even though it makes me wince?
Do you know that instead of asking me “How’s your novel coming along?” you could say any of the following things:
“I can’t wait to BUY and read your novel when it’s done!”
“I know your novel will be amazing.”
“I think it’s so exciting that you’re taking a leap and writing your novel.”
“I support you in your novel writing/revision.”
“May I bake you some cookies or raisin walnut bread to eat while you rewrite your novel?”
“I hope your novel revision/rewrite is going well! Would you like some chocolate?”
“When will you be finished writing the novel?” OHWAIT. Don’t ask that, either. I have no idea. I thought I’d be finished by now. My friend, when pregnant with triplets was understandably HUGE by her fifth month of pregnancy. People would ask when she was due, and when she stated a date four months into the future, their eyebrows would raise and they’d say things like, “Oh wow! You’re HUGE.” And another friend, who is pregnant with twins, gets the same things. Needless to say, they HATE the “due date” question. Same here. I think I’m having novel quintuplets, and I’m about four months pregnant with this novel in “novel-time.” Yah, it’s going to take awhile.
My writer friends know that “How’s your novel coming along?” is an agonizing query. It’s like getting asked how your fetus is doing–an intrusive question at best.
So here’s how my novel is coming along…
It gives me heartburn. Sometimes it kicks me from the inside at an inconvenient moment, or perhaps close to my liver and it gives me pain. Other times, the kicks delight me.
I felt my novel quicken and kick me last year, after I finished the first draft.
Now I feel it swirl and dance.
My novel makes me feel bloated.
My novel makes me nauseous.
My novel makes me crave certain foods.
My novel makes me feel alive. My novel has a heartbeat.
I often fear that this novel won’t make it. That somewhere during the creative process, I’ll lose my grasp on it. That it will just wither and die. And that it will all be my fault. And that you’ll all ask me how it’s going, when in fact, it died inside of me.
I want this novel to be amazing. I am putting all my hopes and dreams into this novel.
I fear this novel won’t be amazing to anyone but me. That I will send it out into the world, and no one will like it.
If no one likes this novel, I will have to put it in my closet, where it will live to the end of its days, visited by no one but me.
I project all my fears onto my novel.
I project all my hope onto my novel.
My novel is getting heavy.
My novel gets bigger every month.
My novel’s features are beginning to sharpen.
My novel looks a little like me, but not really like me, either.
My novel takes everything I have.
That’s how my novel is doing. It’s not done. It will be done. It cannot, at this point, live without me as a host. The only people who get to “see it,” are people who can read a rough draft manuscript, which is the “ultrasound-equivalent” of writing. I love my novel. I hope you will love, it too.
The second question is “What’s your novel about?” And I”ll talk about that in a subsequent post.
 Stewie’s monologue on “How’s that novel coming along?” used to be my cellphone ringer.
(above are post-it notes detailing my novel plot–yes, the colors are coded!)
It’s November 1 November 2, the second day of NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month, in which writers synchronously set out to write a novel within a month).
I participated in NaNoWriMo exactly once, and what it did was pretty much highlight that writing a novel draft inside of a month is NOT my process. My one and only participation produced in me the most ginormous months-long writer’s bloc I’ve ever experienced.
But I still give NaNoWriMo lots of kudos, because it *is* the process for so many writers. And regardless of whether or not I engage, NaNoWriMo is inspiring to me.
One of the things that helps me most as a writer is knowing that I’m not the only one embarking on this crazy journey and that is why I love to blog and tweet and bond with all my fellow writers; we’re all on our solo treks of course, but to know that in November, we’re all doing it alone, yet together, is such a boost to me as a writer. That I don’t finish a novel on November 30 is no big deal. That we’re all writing is a huge deal to me.
That said–I’m making a concerted effort to get a big chunk of my novel revision done this month (again no concrete goals for November 30). I’ve cleared my schedule. I’ve foregone travel with my husband and made the choice to be on a “mini-residency” at home alone.
My “mini-residency” is off to a weird start; I’ve come down with some vicious stomach ailment. Maybe it’s food poisoning. Or I’ve got an alien growing inside me. I can’t seem to keep anything inside my body. Except for rice and saltine crackers. Which is getting a bit boring. So I’ve ordered some jello, so I can make this rainbow jello concoction. Because I’m sick of eating things that are the color of copier paper, whether it be 92 bright white paper (rice), or vellum (applesauce, saltines) or parchment (toast, ginger ale). All paper. Papery.
Anyway, as I embark on this month of diligent revision, I’ve been thinking about what I did to get to this point in the novel, a hard-earned completed first draft.
I started out years ago by writing the novel in first person, for no better reason than the fact that everything I wrote then was in first person. And yet, my protagonist (and narrator) was someone who wasn’t a very active, self-revealing character. Think of Don Draper (a man who doesn’t like to expose himself for various reasons). Think of him as a first person narrator of his own life. Yahhhhh. Not.
It goes without saying that I struggled with writing the novel in first person. There were scenes that worked. But overall, it was like extruding brick-hard room temperature chocolate through a pasta maker. (Again, think of Don Draper narrating his innermost thoughts). Not happening.