Don’t Ask, But I’ll Tell

I cringe when asked how the novel’s coming, not sure why. I guess I’m trying not to panic myself at my slow progress. I should say my slow but steady progress. There is definite movement, words down on the page that I’m happy with, but it takes some deep thought to find the right words and to get them down there.

The process of writing the novel is like this:

Now that the outline is written—and weeks were spent devising it—I barely even use it. Tap-tap on my head, it’s all in here. I mean it was really the process of writing the outline, finding the story and the characters, that was important. Now that it’s done I peek at it only occasionally. I write from memory, but I also go off in new directions, change bits, add things, adjust, do whatever I want really. Who’s to stop me?

I write sentences, I choose words, and this takes forever. The carving of sentences into paragraphs can take hours more than I have each morning, so it is pitiful to look back at my page count when it is time to pack it in and head to work.

When I start in the morning, I have to read back a few paragraphs into what was done the day before to get my rhythm. This is normal. But then I rewrite what was written the day before. I spend so much time on what was done the day before that I barely have anything from the day itself—and imagine adding up this kind of progress in pages and you’ll know how slow I feel.

Again, I just want to say that the words—the language—is very important to me. I want this book to be good. I am not writing it like I’ve done others on assignment. This isn’t an assignment; this is a real and solid chance. And it just takes me time to eke it out, okay?

When a chapter is done I have to immediately go back and line edit it. Tune it up, smooth it out, make sure it says what I want it to say. I cannot let it be on the page. This part of the process takes days.

It is a familiar thing to reach nine o’clock in the morning—the time at which I need to leave for the subway if I want to make it to work on time—and to have just found the perfect stride. The words flow at nine a.m., on fire! All they want is out of me, and I have to shut down the laptop and make them go away. It’s a lesson in self-discipline. It’s also very sad.

But if, every morning, I’m writing toward those five minutes around nine a.m. where I have fiery perfect sentences, then I guess it’s all worth it.

How many five-minute bursts of inspiration will it take to finish one book? I’m not so good at math so I don’t know.

But don’t worry. It’s taking its sweet time, but I still continue to be madly in love with my novel. (Kisses, D.)

In other news, I am having typo nightmares. (This morning’s involved my department head showing off a typo I missed to a huge room full of people in a Powerpoint presentation.) The typo missed was fictional—it did not, has not yet, happened in real life. But the sense of doom, the desperate need to run from the room screaming “I cannot take this responsibility! Please, let me do anything else! I’ll fetch coffee, I’ll make photocopies!” is real. Other people have really fabulous dreams. I wish my nightmares were more creative. I’d take vampires or zombies over enormous angry typos any day.

Any work nightmares you’d like to share?

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