Writing my first novel in 2009 seemed easy and fun. Every other Monday evening for a year I got together with my fellow “Novel Approach” writers and effortlessly produced scene after scene.
In my naivety and arrogance, I envisioned it made into a movie. With no small amount of embarrassment now, I remember confiding in my teacher, Sue Reynolds, that I could contact the filmmaker Paul Haggis (He’d been my neighbour and friend in the ’70s) because I thought he could make my film. She gave me a sweet, indulgent smile but said nothing.
A few years in and the shine has somewhat worn off. Or to be more accurate, many of the illusions have worn off. Writing is still fun and exciting, but a full-length novel or memoir requires draft upon draft, endless editing and rewriting. No doubt I’d been informed of this, but until you’re knee deep, it’s difficult to imagine what that actually means. My biggest challenge is getting the timeline in order. The process feels to me like structural acrobatics.
In the end, that first novel was a hot mess. The temptation was to throw the manuscript in the air and hope that when the pages fell, there’d be some order, some sense to the narrative arc. I didn’t do it, though. After a batch of rewrites, I put it in a drawer and tried to forget about it, the way one tucks away the aftertaste of a love affair gone sour, hoping one won’t repeat the same mistakes.
Luckily, I had another story on the go in which to invest my creative genius. I tucked in.
I can report that after two years, the result wasn’t exactly a hot mess, but the timeline had me in knots. Knots that took several months to untie and get in a line so that the story made sense. Regal House Publishing evidently thinks the final product makes sense because they’ve acquired it for publication. Let’s see what my assigned editor thinks!
Once again, I vowed to pay better attention as I began my next project. After it was suggested that the first sixty pages were extraneous, I had my story take place over only a week. Compared to the other novels I’ve written, that one was a walk in the park. Those excised sixty pages informed the week in which the story took place, so I thought I had a strategy to carry me into the next project.
Okay, here’s where my arrogance ends. Because my current work in progress is already a hot mess. It’s the timeline again. The other day I realized I have to turn the story inside-out to make it realistic.
I’ll do it. It’s just not fun or easy.
Here’s what I do to ease the strain: write poems, flash essays, and short stories. They’re my little holidays.
And then back to the hot mess I love so dearly.
What’s your biggest challenge as a writer and how do you deal with it? I’d love to hear.