When I first started writing, after the alphabet and cursive and basic grammar, when I began to write creatively, I dreamed of novels...in the way a child dreams of most things. I'd imagine going into a bookstore or library, walking down an aisle filled with my favorite books and finding one with my name on it. It would be hardback, of course, its cloth cover pristine and its pages unbent. I usually imagined it blue.
I didn't dream of the years of effort, the frustrations, the dead-ends. Plot holes would not happen to me. Writer's block? Hah! My imagination was more than a match for such pedestrian concerns.
Even so, I did not seriously set to the task of a novel until I was an adult attending junior college and taking my first formal creative writing class. And one of the assignments was to write the first chapter to a novel. What? A novel? But I'm too young, too new! I've only ever done poetry, the odd short story, not...a novel!
I was terrified. I was scared a lot in those days, new to adulthood, uncertain of my place in the world, itchy in my own skin. I couldn't possibly write a novel!
But, good student that I was, I rationalized that I didn't have to write a novel. I just had to write a chapter. So I did, chapter 1 of a novel that went nowhere. I took my A with my usual sense of relief and put the novel chapter into the pile of things I wasn't ready to let go of: essays I was proud of, a collection of A-grade papers, poetry that seemed suddenly childish but too much a part of me to part with. I put this novel-chapter in the pile, the pile in a box, the box in a closet and I didn't think much more about it till I took Creative Writing again. Same thing. New chapter, new novel, into the box.
I took the Creative Writing class as many times as the school would allow during my tenure and, after transferring to and graduating from Cal State Fresno, I came back and managed to squeeze in a couple more sessions. But somewhere along the way, I'd developed a distaste for the novel-to-nowhere endeavor. By my third class, maybe the fourth, I'd decided to make a real go of it.
I won't lie and say I was struck by some life-altering inspiration. I sat down and I pumped out a chapter, a new start to a new novel that I hoped would go somewhere. I wasn't too picky.
I've been working on that novel off and on ever since.
It has grown from a glimmering of a thought to a chapter to...the gigantic stack of papers in my sewing room. There's at least 10 full chapters but I'd guess, by volume, closer to 20. There are snippets and paragraphs, handwritten notes. There are rewrites and re-inventions, a mess of dead-end corners and contradictions. I resurrected a character between one chapter and the next without explanation!
But there are people living in those pages, dying, sometimes and unintentionally coming back to life again. They have histories and habits and a way of being. There are customs, languages, a whole society complete with laws and social mores. There are countries and continents and oceans between them. I had created a world but I didn't know how to write a novel.
I had and have other projects, other novels over the years. I've finished a few of them. Okay, finished is a strong word. I've finished the drafts, all of which need major work. One of my finished drafts is actually proving to be the first of a trilogy! This is interesting, exciting, but a little disheartening too. There's something energizing about the idea of being "finished," and my brain just couldn't let me have that win.
But...the stack. That first effort to go beyond a chapter and into something real. It really is my "baby." I always want to laugh a little when people dub dogs, businesses, novels their "babies." I imagine them cooing over them, diapering them, dressing them up in fuzzy sweaters (really big sweaters in the case of the business baby). But it's true, this novel is my baby. It's broken, it's messy, it's missing pieces...and I can't let it go.
I'm also scared to try and fix it. What if I make it worse? What if it can't be fixed? What if it shatters to pieces in my hands?
I've been reading a book on outlines. I have downloaded a free trial of Scrivener. I bought notecards and sticky notes. All this in the hopes of recouping the stack. And I've been too scared to even step foot into that sewing room.
That's sad, isn't it? Still, one day at a time. And an addition to Row80, inspired in part by a lovely blog by Alberta Ross on the subject of dismantling and rebuilding old works. That's what I need to do.
So, in addition to my 300 words a day, 1 submission per month and sink repair (done)...let's add one honest self-assessment of "baby" and a rough outline by round's end.
Row80: 300+ words/day: yes. Monthly Mag Submission: Not Yet. 2 Blogs/Wk: yes. Novel Rehab Tasks: Not Yet. Sink: Done.
WOK Blog Challenge: Again late but up-to-date with this entry
WOK 20K: Starts tomorrow
Camp Nano: 2276/25000
Magic Spreadsheet: 15,843 words since June 2, 36 day chain, 716 points, Level 2