I’ve been working on a novel for several years now. My writing process has been filled with fits and spurts of frantic production, and periods of rejecting the project all together (sometimes for more than a year). I’ve often referred to this novel as the project that I get to make all my mistakes on before moving onto something brilliant. But I cringe slightly at the metaphor, because I truly believe there’s still something in this book that is wonderful and extraordinary. There’s just a certain tone to the way the scenes play and the way the environmentals build that feels like nothing else I’ve written or read. Every time I try to put it aside and buckle down on other projects, I just can’t help but come back to it. My personal black hole.
It’s hard to stay motivated on the project. I’ve had several mental setbacks, most often dealing with real-world news events that so closely mirror some of the elements in the book that I worry about how it would be accepted, if it would be too gauche so close to a tragic event. I worry about whether it’s even possible to publish the book, since several of my naming conventions have recently been used in other media to describe similar entities or elements in the book…that I came up with in 2007 (grrr). Either of these things can be handled with care and sensitivity – adjusting the story slightly, or simply having faith that the fictional elements of the plot are strong enough to compensate for what now seems like reliance on reality.
It’s also hard to know how to approach the book again after having shelved it for so long. It’s nearly 70,000 unedited words, still missing a completed climax and ending. A monster of a manuscript. The plot is gnarled and twisted after so many revisions that a massive retooling and restructuring is needed before I can fit those fantastic scenes and elements where they really need to be. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to cram so much information and so much action into this one novel that it needs a prequel for the reader to make sense of it all, or to even become invested in the characters. But that’s not right either – I just need to find a way to charge the scenes with background and engagement every step of the way.
It’s been helpful recently to get back into reading other novels and short stories (which I rarely do when I have the time to sit down and write). I’ve been able to step back and consider some of the elements of my plot that come off as too familiar, tropes that have been used too frequently in the exact same plot outlines. It’s a lovely challenge for me, something that keeps my mind dreaming and scheming during swim practice and play dates and the monotony of second trimester bed rest with this pregnancy.
Telling my husband that I’m working on it again is almost painful – I avert my eyes from his predictable sigh of exasperation each time that he discovers I’m taking the plunge yet again. He’s my most ardent supporter, my sounding board, the one who picks up the pieces when I’m falling apart in misery over something that’s just not working. It’s like admitting to a regression for a terrible habit that we both thought I put behind me long ago. I think the angst and agony over this project is rooted in the length of its presence in our lives, the fact that it’s my first novel, and that it’s a story that we both really love that just hasn’t found the right form yet.
I fortify myself to dive back into the stygian depths with an ample amount of Trader Joes peanut brittle and large quantities of ginger ale (about all my pregnant stomach can handle). Please ensure a ready supply of wiggly, squirmy, giggly “Mama Hugs” from the four year old are available to sustain motivation and forward progress.