You know, sometimes the simplest things manage to escape me (which may be why I have, at times, been accused of making things more complicated than they have to be). Ever since I went back to work, I have discovered that my novel-writing has suffered in a way that I should have expected but didn't. I mean, when I wasn't working, I was writing at least three and, sometimes, six hours a day. There is no way one can work full time and keep up that pace, especially if one wants to have time to, oh, read, say, or watch an occasional DVD. Stupid me, though, had just figured I'd do what I've read so many other authors do. I'd get up at 5:00 a.m. and write for 3 hours every morning before "going to work."
Talk about a plan that hasn't worked. I seem to suffer from early-onset Alzheimers when coming up with such grand plans. I'd managed to forget that working 8 hours a day, even when you enjoy what you do, and even when you have no commute, can be exhausting. I'd forgotten that there are other things I like to do besides writing, like cooking, and that I can be a bit (okay, very) compulsive about those things. For instance, I might find myself browsing through a Cooking Light magazine at 6:00 p.m. and finding a recipe that sounds delicious. The next thing I know, I am in the car, on the way to the store to pick up ingredients for it. That can mean not eating until 9:00 p.m., the hour at which I should be going to bed if I am going to get up at 5:00 the next morning, not the hour at which I should be sitting down to (lowfat) homemade, pesto-filled ravioli. Oh, and speaking of going to bed, I also seem to have forgotten that I am an insomniac. If I have been awake from 2:00 - 4:30 a.m., there is no way in hell I'm dragging myself out of bed at 5:00 unless I have to, which I don't if all I'm planning on doing is writing.
Nonetheless, I diligently stuck to my schedule -- up before dawn, writing something (not always The Novel, but something) before work -- for a month. Soon enough, I had to admit it was a schedule that was killing me. I do write best just after I get up (I firmly believe in the theory that we are at our most creative when we are closest to the sleeping and dreaming state), but I am not a morning person by nature. If I lived in a society that allowed it, I would happily stay up until 1:00 a.m. and sleep until 9:00 every morning and be much happier (not to mention, probably no longer suffer from insomnia). Since I don't live in such a society, I would somehow manage to get out of bed, stagger downstairs to make some coffee.
I'd sit down to write. Nothing would come, except ideas for blog posts. Those always seem to hang out in abundance. I didn't want to write blog posts, though. I'd gotten to a point in my novel, a particular scene that I wanted (but also knew had) to be hilarious. And I just. could. not. write. it. Every insecurity I've ever had about my ability to write would come knocking at my door (my fifteen-year-old self would have begun burning pages). I'd put it all aside and pick up books to read instead, but I couldn't even concentrate on those. Finally, I'd "go to work" early, because there I could be comfortable. There, I was accomplishing things: my initial ideas receiving thumbs up, my first proposal approved, my first contract signed.
This happened for about six weeks or so, and then the new year was upon me. Time to make some resolutions. The Novel was languishing in its bed, turning blue, and begging me to resuscitate it. The first draft should have been done by now. The second draft should have been begun. I was tempted to do what I always do: force myself to continue with the plan that wasn't working. This year, I would get up at 5:00 every morning and make myself write. Then it hit me: what sort of novel would I then have? It couldn't possibly be any good if I'm not giving it the chance to flow -- if I'm just writing to finish it. How many novels have I read like that? They're so good, and then I get to the final pages and feel that all the author was trying to do was end it.
I decided I didn't want to write a novel like that. I wanted to get back to enjoying the process, to letting the novel go where it wanted to go. The Novel began to get a little color back in its cheeks. Then I decided that my New Year's resolution was going to be not to have any resolutions about The Novel. I was just going to work on it a little bit at a time. Maybe some days it would only get twenty minutes. Others, it might get three hours. I wouldn't pressure it to come to a conclusion. The Novel's cheeks were now rosy. It leaped out of bed and asked if we could go snow shoeing (we can't. We live in Lancaster County where, just the other day, it was sixty degrees and, rather than snowing, pouring buckets).
Guess what, it's full of energy now, running miles every day. I can barely keep up with it, as it writes itself. I provide it with a pen and some paper and just sit and watch it. And you know that hilarious scene I was having such a hard time composing? Do you want to know why it was so hard? It's because it wasn't time for that scene yet. I was forcing it where it didn't belong. The Novel finished that scene three days ago, and I laughed my way through it. It is funny (at least I think it is. I hope my readers will, too).
Now, here is where the simple thing I managed to miss comes into play. I sent an email to (my wise- friend/mentor, not my also-wise-husband) Bob about how I'd been struggling so much with The Novel. His very reassuring response was that all writers suffer from writer's block, and then he pointed out something so practical, so beautiful in its simplicity, I'm almost embarrassed to admit I hadn't figured it out myself. He said, "You only have to write one page a day to have a novel in a year." He's absolutely right, but I'd been too busy setting up all my impossible hurdles and goals. No wonder The Novel was on its death bed. One page a day (or at least an average of one page a day)? Now that's a goal that doesn't frighten me or intimidate me in the least.
Not that I have any goals. Don't ask me when The Novel will be done. That's up to it, and I'm a mere observer in the process. Right now, I'm just happy to see it up and about, running around, and seeing how it unfolds. I'll let you know when it decides it's come to an end.