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You Can’t Lose What is in You

You Can’t Lose What is in You

I know you know this, but I am writing a novel. Big surprise: that’s what I”m writing about today.

Once, at workshop in the West Virginia mountains, I heard Meredith Sue Willis say,  that whatever your novel is, you should know it will change, and that you will change, too. She also said that novels are made out of scenes, and then words.

Both are true in this case. Over the past 12 years this novel has been a short story, a first-person present-tense account, and then, now, a past tense third-person omniscient. It has remained dormant in notebooks for years before coming back alive with a ferocious sprint, and then slowing down again to a light stroll with copious breaks for trail snacks. While my characters have remained (except for one that I cut pretty early on), almost everything else has changed.

How like life, to change, yet to also remain true to itself. Though things change, much remains the same and when we look through history, we cannot be surprised by what we see now. Life has always been life, and people have always been human.

The long of it is 30,000 words, and more than that. It goes beyond what I have written or typed. Now, in my notebook of new chapter drafts, I find myself copying passages of scripture, in a way of submission, instead of actively writing more of the story.

Are your ears awake? Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. –Revelation

Worthy, O Master! Yes, our God! Take the glory! The honor! The power! You created it all; it was created because you wanted it.-Revelation

I find myself copying passages about writing that encourage me.

Do not worry about the whole. Write what is next, the idea that comes now, at the moment. Don’t be afraid. For there will be more coherence and arrangement than you think. -Brenda Ueland

I find myself journaling my insecurities and whatever nonsense pops into my head. I find myself submitting to the will of God. I find myself questioning the call of this novel. Is this something that I want, or something that He wants? I want to be sure that I know, though at this point I really want to drop it, but I can’t. So, I guess I do know.

I find myself learning more about the process of writing than I find actual scenes and words for this novel. I find myself taking joy in the ease of writing poem drafts (no matter how terrible they are, I can at least get an entire draft finished in a few minutes, and that is deeply satisfying when, for other projects, there is no end in sight.)

I find myself trying to remember all that I’ve written regarding this novel. Most of it is in one of two notebooks, but a lot of it is also scribbled on loose pages that I had meant to organize with everything else. When I can’t find something I thought I had written, I feel a bit distressed, as if I’d lost something important. Perhaps I did lose something important, but really, more truthfully, since you can’t lose what is in you, I know that the exact words of a first draft are not always as vital as I imagine they are.

If I recall a scene but can’t find the draft, surely I can rewrite it. What is important will remain. Keeping every exact, initial word is not my goal. And that is true for life as well as writing.

The Magic of Novel Writing

The Magic of Novel Writing

I am in the middle of writing a novel.

I’ve been writing this novel for years. It began as a family story. It turned into a short story for a college writing class. Now, I have 30,000 words and I tell people that I’m writing a novel.

It’s true. I am writing a novel, but I’m also mothering three children. I’m teaching them to read and write and count and make breakfast for themselves. I’m teaching them to clean their own toilets and hang up their sweaters. I am a wife, a friend, a homemaker.

The novel is secondary on purpose. My family comes first.

I’ve wondered if I should give up this novel. It’s so hard to write. But then– is it hard to write because aside from the novel itself, the longest thing I’ve ever written was only a few pages long?

Some writers say that they have a hard time writing short pieces, that they just can write and write and write forever, that after a few months, they could have a draft of a novel. Perhaps I’m exaggerating the time frame, but it has always been easier for me to write brief, poetic, flash pieces. A writing friend who has been reading my novel-in-progress recently gave me some glorious feedback that should have made me want to write novels forever and ever and keep going until it was finished. She asked if it was really a first draft. She said she was deeply impressed. She said that my technique and my flow was consistent.

This got me thinking, though. The writing has been slow. Every time I sit down to write another scene (which is not often, mind you) I feel like the words are being pulled out of me like ribbons from a magicians throat. You know that trick? The one where the magician opens his/her mouth and shows some color that should not be there. They yank and a long scarf/ribbon comes out. It’s longer than you would think.

It seems I am unable to just quickly spit out words for this story. Instead, I am transported. The words travel from somewhere deep and perhaps that is why it reads like I’ve been working on it for a long time. It is not a first draft, but it is nearly so. The words that are on the page right now are new because I have re-written the novel a few times. I had begun with a different backstory in mind and when some other friends suggested that I use the real story of my family history, that it would be better, I began again. It’s not that I’ve edited the words so many times, but perhaps that I’ve held them for so long.

Aren’t all great stories ones that grew in someone’s soul for years? Aren’t they always the stories we’ve heard over and over again and then we live them or find them fresh? Aren’t they wrought with themes that we’ve known our whole lives, made new with men and women we are just now creating?

Yes, I am writing a novel. Slowly, surely, with so much fear and truth that tangles and twists and pulls at my guts and makes me want to throw up. But instead I continue to stand like a magician, one who has not trained in magic but finds herself pulling on hidden ribbons anyway.