Some of my current angst is rooted in the novel I began working on almost 20 months ago.
As 2020 began, I was practically giddy about my progress. That’s now tempered.
After I finished my first draft in early February, I gave it to a few people to read. When I do this, I’m at once an optimist and a realist — I’m enthusiastic enough about the work that I’m willing to believe I’ll hit a home run with it in my first at-bat, that it will resonate the way I want it to. But the reason I share the work at this stage is for people to point out my blind spots — the things I try that didn’t land, plus the things I should have landed but didn’t try.
The initial notes have brought back plenty of each. I don’t know if it’s a lot, but it feels like a lot. Some of them, I’m not in agreement with, but others … oh yeah. I couldn’t see it before, but they’re dead on.
It’s hard. It’s humbling, for one thing. I’m used to know exactly what I’m doing when I write. I trust my instincts. But with something so different like writing a novel, my instincts haven’t earned that level of trust.
But it’s mainly about the mental challenge of entering the next stage. Whatever the state of the first draft, it had a beginning, middle and end. It was flawed, but it was complete. Now, I have to open up the body and perform surgery, and it’s painful, because it’s as if I’m performing surgery on myself.
And then fear enters the picture, fear that in trying to make it better, I’ll lose the certain juice that makes the novel special and I’ll make it worse. I feel that used to happen to me with my original scripts 20-odd years ago — that with each draft, I’d get farther away from their reason for being. I’d revise the life out of them.
Fear I’m wasting my time.
So this is important: Early Friday evening, atop the file where I am collecting my notes and the notes from others for the revision, I typed in bold, “Don’t forget the joy!” Ultimately, I’m not writing the novel because I’m trying to change the world. I’m writing the novel for the same reason I’m writing these blog posts — I have thoughts and feelings I want to share in the hopes that they will connect. That’s the joy that has to come through me to you — that’s the reward — even if the process at times can be painful.
I have always wanted to write a novel, and I feel like, no matter what happens from here on out, I have done so. And I’m proud of myself for that. Don’t forget the joy.
But you know, I can’t say I don’t want it to be good. And if it turns out not to be — not that it won’t have any worthwhile moments, but that it just doesn’t really cohere into something special — I’ll feel sad. I’ll remind myself not to feel regret, but I think I’ll feel sad most of all because the time I spent on the novel will have been time I could have spent connecting with people here.
Especially now, I don’t want to write only for myself. I don’t want to live only for myself.