baby come back, you can blame it all on me. i was wrong and i just can’t live without you.

thank you.  Last summer, I published my first-ever blog post. The blogging world was fast and exciting.  It was new to me.  And maybe even a little bit scary. (Publishing with the click of a button?  Downright terrifying.  And kind of awesome.)

At the onset, I posted regularly.  Not compulsively, but at least once a week.  (I didn’t want to be one of those inconsistent, unreliable bloggers.) School days came around again in August, and I managed to keep up that pace until November, when I focused my writing efforts on NaNoWriMo to get reacquainted with my fiction.  December became a three-way competition in those early morning hours:  grading papers against blog writing against novel writing.  In February, I added a new blog to the fight.  And the novel writing became my reward.  After the paper-grading.  After the first-blog-posting.  After the second-blog-posting.  “If I just get all of this finished, I can get to work . . . ”

The blog became another obligation.  A kind of burden.  Another thing that got in the way of me doing what I wanted to be doing.  Blogging kept me from writing.

revisions.

Seven years ago last March, I finished writing my first novel.  (Yes, I know.  You’re supposed to write your first novel and then hide it under your bed forever.  You’re never supposed to actually attempt to publish your first novel.)  Less than a week later, my first child was born.  That summer, while she napped, I queried.  I received a personal letter from FSG (when they still accepted unsolicited manuscripts), requesting to see more of my work in the future, which I guess was a bigger deal that I thought it was at the time.  But I was a new mother.  I went back to work; the writing time dwindled and sometimes even disappeared.

Over these last seven years, we’ve evolved.  Together.   I’m middle-aged.  A mother of three.  The book has kept only the setting from its original form.  Its protagonist is still young and female, but nothing like its first young female protagonist.  After these word count.years of the on-again-off-again relationship, it’s time we got back together.  And while the blogs have spiced things up a bit as a source of instant gratification, I am ready for a long-term commitment.

Because what I’ve realized is that, for me, it’s about the work. I don’t write for publication or for notoriety. Perhaps I did at one time, but not now.  Now I write because I have to.  I don’t claim to think that mine is the Great American Novel or some kind of New York Times bestseller.  But I believe in it enough to think that it warrants being written. That’s the work, after all.  The life work.  I don’t think I’m too concerned with whether or not anyone wants to read it. (Except for my friend Karen. I’d like for Karen to read it.)

congratulations.

I’m not saying I want to turn my “online presence” into a Salinger-esque style of reclusivity (though I do think there is something to be said for going forty-five years without publishing and still writing every day), but I wouldn’t mind retreating a bit. Perhaps we (the blogs and I) just need to start seeing less of each other.  Perhaps we need some space.

It’s time for the novel to come first.

every day i write the book

This is why it takes years, I think.chapter one.

I tell myself that one good paragraph is worth 4 am. But maybe, not even a paragraph.  Maybe just a sentence. After all, it was Papa Hemingway himself who said: All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know. 

As a young writer in college, I had the “observer-narrator” problem.  My characters enjoyed watching life happen to others, but life never happened to them.  In graduate school, it was the “you-have-no-plot” problem.  So I took a screenwriting class and learned to get (and keep) my fighters fighting.

Now I have a new problem.

fiction's loss.  My brain is trained as a poet; I think in iambic pentameter. And so fiction writing can sometimes seem superfluous. And tedious. When I attempted to “quit” fiction writing to focus on poetry some years ago, a teacher remarked, “Poetry’s gain is fiction’s loss.”  What I’m finding is that poetry is crippling my triumphant return to fiction.

I am by no means prolific; I can barely get out words enough for one novel, let alone many.  But what I’ve noticed, especially after this last month and my NaNoWriMo attempt, is that what paralyzes me the most as a writer is the poetry.  I write a single sentence and revise it like a line of poetry, because I agree with Richard Hugo: “I would far rather mean what I say than say what I mean.”  Does every connotation suggested by that word make sense in this context?  Why does the rhythm stumble on the verb? I unintentionally rhyme internally several times in one paragraph, and even though my ear likes it, my reader may not.  Stephen Dobyns, a teacher of mine at Emerson, defined poetry as “best words, best order.” But with fiction, there are just so many words.best words.

So I didn’t achieve the 50,000 word requirement for NaNoWriMo this November.  But I made it to 19, 776.  And I gave myself direction.

More importantly, though, I showed myself that it can be done.  That I can parent three small children, teach high school English, and write.  Even if it means that I wake up at 4 am on weekdays and attempt to work during the youngest’s weekend naps.  And that can go something like this: as soon as he goes down to bed, I open the computer.  A cry.  I stop.  I wait to see if he’s really awake or just making a last desperate attempt to dodge a nap.

Then I start again.

line up!  But my daughters are playing on the floor in front of me, lining up every Fisher Price person in existence to visit the circus and ride an elephant or a giraffe.  Even Baby Jesus (who’s forever in his manger).  Their little girl voices are powering over the rest, and I can’t hear my characters.

Still, there are moments that keep me going.  Like that one morning, in the still-dark before sunrise, when I write a scene about a missing teenage girl.  And it spooks me out.  The cat jumps on the table and I jump, too. Or when I re-read a scene and decide it belongs in another novel, and start outlining that story before I pull myself back to this one. Or when my protagonist suddenly turns herself into a cross-country runner. And, hey, where did that sinkhole come from?

This must be part of that vivid and continous dream John Gardner told me about all those years ago.

What I have learned in this month (aside from the fact that I seem to have a deep-rooted intolerance for tired people.  Really.  Tired people are boring.  Wake up people. marrow-sucking.  It’s time to “live deeply and suck out all the marrow of life”. Sheesh.)  is that I won’t ever ever accomplish as much during a “school vacation” as I think, but it’s nice to think it. It’s nice to imagine, ahead of time, all of the available writing hours. And that there are going to be days when I don’t increase the word count, when I actually decrease it through editing and revising. There are going to be days when I just stare at the screen. There are going to be days when my children don’t cooperate (at all).  Or days when they are sick and needy.  Or days I have to cook a Thanksgiving turkey.  And then, the writing has to wait.

But what’s important is getting the words out.  Even if it takes years.