Novel writing is not an easy business. In fact, for most writers, myself included, most of it isn't even a fun business. It's something to contemplate, power through, and struggle over. Every word becomes an act of second-guessing. Should it be "contemplate" or "ruminate on"? Is this character blonde or brunette? Sometimes, it takes everything you have to keep going.
I'm made it no secret that I've been having a hard time with this writing thing post MFA graduation. I felt deflated. My time to write got so condensed down that I started pretending it didn't exist at all and watching reruns of TV shows on Netflix instead. I got really into my knitting, focused on that, because I'll be darned if I was making any progress on this whole writing thing. A small voice inside my brain started suggesting that perhaps I chose the wrong calling. Maybe I was meant to be a knitwear designer or a piano bar singer or a stay-at-home mom.
I'd wager that this second-guessing is part of the process of becoming a Writer rather than just being a person who writes.
The big problem for me is that I tend to write a lot of my stuff subconsciously. I'll sit in the car staring blankly out the window and it will look much like I'm zonked and dreaming. That's when I'm writing. I'm writing in the kitchen when I make dinner. I'm writing when I clean. I'm writing when I walk down the street. I'm writing when I'm sitting in my office chair, tapping my pencil to the beat of "Semi-Charmed Life." Still, the writing I do in my head doesn't always translate well to the page at first. I have to sit on an idea for months sometimes before I get the beginning right, and I can't keep going until I have somewhere to start.
A few days ago, though, something happened. I found that place to start for one of my new story-chapters. I've been thinking about the main character, a woman older than me going through something I can't begin to fully understand. I've been writing scenes of her in my frontal lobe… or wherever the words go before I write them down, but I haven't been able to get at the core of her. Not until that day. I wrote a first sentence on that spiral-bound, lined paper and I just knew instinctively that it was the right first sentence, that this was the sentence that would take me on to everything that comes after this first sentence.
Then I wrote a second sentence and a third. I could hear dialogue in my head. It all started coming together, and in this moment, maybe 30 seconds long, maybe less, I felt it, that joy, that exhilaration, the thing I feel that makes me sure once every month or so (if I'm lucky) that I was meant to write and write often.
What was the key to this beginning place? It's always hard to pinpoint inspiration and impossible to recreate it when you're alone with a blank page and you just need to write something. I knew bits and pieces of her, this elusive main character, but the thing that finally clicked it all into place for me was in that first sentence, and she didn't become real until she spoke to her son. This is a woman whose son calls her first. Not dad, not best friend, not girlfriend, but mom. When the crap hits the fan, he calls her. That bond, I didn't quite see it before, but that's what I'll need to write the rest of the story. That's the one thing that will take me through to the end. I also have an end point, one paragraph I scrabbled through that is giving me a direction. Now all I have to do is fill in the middle.
I haven't made extensive progress word-count wise (a couple pages as of yet), but I've been taking note. I've been reading the right things. I've been quiet. I have a beginning and I have a place to end. Lately, I've been feeling like a Writer, and it's days like these that keep me sustained through all the not-fun that I know is coming to get this story from thought to final draft.