The scariest thing about starting a novel

The scariest thing about starting a novel

Historically I haven’t been very good at talking about my works in progress. I’m still not. I think that’s because I’m usually trying to talk about something that’s half-baked. That’s how it’s gone in trying to talk about this novel, Temperance. I tried to talk to John about it in the past, and bounced some things off of John Remy when he was here visiting at Christmas, but in those instances it quickly became clear that the central ideas in the story couldn’t yet stand up under much questioning. It just wasn’t all there.

Last weekend was different. I knew I wanted to use my home town as a template for the setting; I really love this town and it has an interesting and tumultuous history that is often overlooked. In the months since I first tried to talk about Temperance I came across an interesting and particularly tragic bit of local history, and suddenly the story was about something important. In talking to John over dinner on Sunday I started to sound less like a babbling idiot and more like someone with a story to tell.

This is a huge relief, because I really didn’t want to start writing it until I had a really good grip on where it was going. The weight of the commitment to Taos convinced me to start it twice already, even though it felt like it was too soon. The first time the work was lost (Protip: Do not use the beta version of any product for important work; Dropbox won’t save you if the application itself isn’t saving the file when told to) and the second time…well, what I wrote just isn’t right. This time I’m pretty sure it will be.

I have a really aggressive writing schedule planned in order to have a first draft done in time to workshop it at Taos. (It would have been nice to workshop a revised draft, but oh well.)

None of this has anything to do with the title of the blog post! So I’ll get to that now. The scariest thing about that aggressive schedule is sinking a huge chunk of time into something that won’t see the light of day for probably two full years, maybe more. It’s time that I could put into short stories, that I could finish and submit in a month or two. It’s time wherein I’ll have one project, partly done, for a long, long time.

There is no instant gratification in writing a novel. Maybe this is why I’ve never gone beyond the first draft of one before now. It takes something more than the joy of making something for me to commit to that kind of time, to sacrifice the time I could have put into something else that would be done sooner.

It’s kind of like putting my entire writing career (what little there is of it) on hold for an indefinite length of time on the gamble that eventually this novel will be worth reading. I’ve been doing short fiction almost exclusively (my novel forays are usually November novels, and I’ve never seriously revisited one for revision) since I started writing seriously in 2002; I only got good enough to sell anything last year. To put a halt to that right now sometimes seems like a terrible idea.

But I think this is the right time to write it, so I’m going to go ahead and take that bet.

6 thoughts on “The scariest thing about starting a novel

  1. I think it’s the perfect time, and that you’re ready. Good for you for having the courage to pursue your ultimate goal–finishing (*really* finishing) a novel.

    Hugs and good luck to you! :)

  2. Pushing yourself and taking risks are what makes you an artist! If you weren’t scared–a little–of starting your project, it probably wouldn’t be the right one for you.

    Sometimes we have to put aside the notion that we’re in this for a career and just do crazy shit!

  3. I’m working on the third (and hopefully final!) draft of the novel I workshopped at SBWC way back in ’07. Most days I’m proud of how much it has improved and how much I’ve learned along the way. But other days (today, for example), I still feel like I’m wasting my time writing a lame story about unlikeable people doing dumb things. Sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is encouragement from other writers, along with their honest feedback and criticism. I never could have written the second draft without Lisa Lenard-Cook, and I’m sure I would fizzle out on this draft without my local writers group.

    It seems like you have a wonderful support network, people who cheer you on and assure you that your time is well invested in your own writing projects. I think this is the most valuable asset any writer can have, and I have absolute confidence that you will finish and refine this novel into something amazing.

  4. “There is no instant gratification in writing a novel.” Which is why, I think, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten to enjoy writing novels more & more.

    You will come see me on your way to or from Taos, si? xo L

  5. Congrats on finding your story! That is wonderful!

    I hear you about not wanting to put short stories on hold. Something that sometimes makes me feel better about such things is thinking about how I’ll be building my writing skills while writing the novel. So when I return to short stories, I’ll be a stronger writer!

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