Writing the Ocean

I finished Neil Gaiman’s latest novel last night, in my second sitting with it. It was that kind of book, right from the start. Grabbed me, pulled me in, wrung me out, and didn’t let me go until it was done with me. I fell asleep afterward, my head filled with rags and worms and an endless tugging ocean.

He wrote it for his wife, and it feels like he wrote it for writers, for all of us, and with so much love.

I want to write like that, of course. I woke up this morning and wrote another 1300 words in my novel and they were nothing like that.

I read today that the Ocean’s signing tour is Gaiman’s last.

I am unspeakably sad about it. Right now, with the Ocean still flowing through me its current tugging longing to dissolve me… I’m ready to drop everything and head to California, just so I can meet him before he turns recluse. Alas, odds are that I never will have that honor. I’ll have to settle for video:

It’s good video. Good advice. Go do things. Read a lot. Lose your heart. Write. Write. Write.

“All writers have this vague hope that the elves will come in the night and finish things for you… They never do… You put one word after another like putting bricks in the wall…” or drops in an ocean…

72,862.

 

She’s Baaack!

It’s an interesting phenomenon, the fictional character. It’s not exactly that they become real, but they do. It’s not exactly that they decide for themselves what they will do, but they do.

There’s this little girl in my book, and I put her there because I felt a need to have a girl talk to a girl. Then that flopped, so I took her out. Then I put her back in. And took her out. She was like a florescent bulb that can’t decide whether it wants to turn on or off. Then a couple mornings ago on my way in to work, I thought, well, why not just ask her whether she wants to be in the story or not?

So I did.

And she did.

So I put her back in.

I told Monty (age 12) about this, and he said, “Wait, who are you talking about?”

“My character.”

“The one you wrote? Your made-up character?”

“Yes.”

“You asked her what she wanted?”

“Mm-hm.”

“And she answered you?”

“Yup.”

“Oh. That’s weird.”

Yes, that’s true.

So there was that, and then I got to thinking about this scene I was struggling over, the one where a couple characters who’ve been looking for each other finally find each other, and I had to imagine it now with this extra character in there and… I started to cry. That’s when I knew for sure she had to stay in. It wasn’t any of the main characters, for all their poignancy, who made me feel the pain and the sorrow and the bittersweetness (I always think of Across Five Aprils and 8th grade English, with the teacher who bullied me, whenever I say “bittersweet”) of it all. It was this little girl, slight and quiet and a little shy, standing on the sidelines watching and yearning… who made me weep. So she’s in to stay.

She seems happy about it, even if she is rather sad right now. Bittersweet.

Stick me in the insane asylum. There’s no hope for me.

The Blog Comment/Facebook Post that Started it All

I posted the text below to my Facebook feed today, along with a link to the Anne Rice advice mentioned (which I’ll post here later). It kinda explains how/why/when/what the impetus was for becoming a novelist/admitting to my inner novelist. And then I got to thinking and decided that to celebrate my new status as an emergent-novelist-who-has-written-50,000-words-in-her-first novel, the logical thing to do is to start a new blog. Or, rather, revive an old one but completely revamp it. For writers. I explain more of what this is about on the about page. Just. Here’s the post:

I’m about to tell you my Thing, because Glennon asked about it on her blog today and I realized I’m ready to share my Thing publicly. Here’s my Thing.

My Thing is writing novels. I’ve had novels living inside me begging to come out all my life, but I kept thinking they were short stories, mostly because I’m impatient, and then I would get frustrated because they would take so darn long to come out, and so I tried to make them be tidy little short stories, and I don’t even like short stories, really. And so I didn’t like them and kept doing other things instead.

I’ve written hundreds of thousands, probably millions, maybe even hundreds of millions (really, I don’t have any actual idea how many) of words on nearly every topic imaginable. Chickens. Debt. Landscape management. Limousine business. Data storage. Marketing Strategy. Gardening. God. Life. Ducks. I’ve been published innumerable times in local and national print, as well as in blogs, brochures, press releases, and websites where there is no byline because I’ve been paid to tell someone else’s story in their voice.

And somehow in all that writing, up until about six months ago, it never seemed like a novel was important enough to bother with. Novels are… entertainment. They don’t make real differences in the world, right? Maybe a handy how-to would be just the thing, or a collection of inspirational essays.

But the stories just kept coming to me and I FINALLY listened to what I’ve heard and known for a long time, that if you are called to do something then that something is what you are called to do… and if you are called to do it, then it IS important.

So about six weeks ago, I decided to let one of the stories that came to me BE the novel that it wanted to be, and to take its sweet time, even though that time turns out to be a lot (A LOT) of mornings. Why:

It was a mix of Anne Lamott, a friend, and wild precious posts from favorite bloggers. Mostly Annie, though. Telling me (and her 100k+ FB followers) that my excuses were bullshit (sorry, but it just wouldn’t be Annie without the swearing).

Also mostly my friend giving us a big precious gift that said I BELIEVE IN YOU (in my head it said that. In everyone else’s reality it said something else–a lot of something elses. It’s a long story, and one I’m not ready to tell yet. But I will. I will when I’m ready).

And also Glennon and her story of getting up every morning to write because it was better than going to Africa.

Oh, and Anne Rice, who said something I will never forget about writing into your pain and writing into your passion. Which is kind of the same thing as saying it’s about pain and love, which is what I do every morning for an hour now, writing into my pain and my love.

So. Anyway. I’m 50,000+ words in. 50. Thousand. Words. That’s enough to be taken seriously, right? I mean, I haven’t just STARTED a novel, I’ve actually written over a third of it. Maybe close to two thirds.

I haven’t shared all this publicly because I’ve been afraid I’ll jinx it. But then I remembered it’s not magic, so it can’t be jinxed. It’s hard work and it’s getting up every morning and doing it again for that one precious hour, every single morning, no matter what. It’s letting my love and my pain be the first thing I do every morning. Love and pain and hard work.

That’s all it is, and you can’t jinx that.

So. Fifty thousand words, and a decision to get up tomorrow morning and write the next scene, the next thousand words. That’s my Thing. What’s your Thing?

Writing a Novel is Intimidating

I have hesitated to post about my experiences because, after all, I am 39 and only for the first time in my life finally actually working on a novel in any sort of disciplined way and so, although I have been writing professionally in a business context for more than 12 years, I am not truly an “author” in the way that a Lev Grossman or a Shaindel Beers or a Sarah Pinneo or an Anne Lamott is an author. Plus, I’ve been afraid I would jinx it by publicly sharing. But today I think I will, and maybe others can share my journey.

I’ve been getting up an hour early to write every morning for just over a month (thank you Abby England, your gift started this, you know). I now have 48k+ words in my first novel.

It feels nice to watch it grow like that. It’s gratifying to read pieces of it to my kids and hear how excited they get about my characters, and receive their (quite useful, really) feedback, and listen to them ask for more, more, more.

But I think the coolest thing about it is watching my own process and seeing that I really can do something this big. Writing a novel is intimidating. An average client long-copy deliverable (i.e., case studies, white papers, etc.–versus website headlines, ad copy, etc.) runs between 1,200 and 2,500 words. A first novel starts at around 60,000 and runs up to 150,000 (War and Peace and the last Harry Potter book well exceed this number, of course). The sheer complexity of plot is overwhelming even in a short novel.

But I’m doing it. I really am.