A letter to my unfinished novel

Before you decide I’ve completely lost my mind (and I’m not claiming that’s not a distinct possibility…it is, after all, nearly February!) I need to point out that there’s a method to my madness. L.L. Barkat over at Seedlings of Stone, who is the author of Stone Crossings, wrote something that I’ve been turning over in my mind the last few days. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is that writing begets more writing. Blogging has been good for me, because when I sit down to write I know I have a short time in which to write a short collection of words, and I can’t be obsessive about editing (what, you noticed? Sorry…) because if I do I will never get anything finished. I sit down, rip some words out, usually have time to run the spell check and then pray for the best…it’s helped me “let go” with my writing, or at least start to. I step on my own toes when I write, trying to edit as I go and re-working passages as soon as they’re on paper instead of letting them flow, then going back to clean up the mess and shape the written lump of clay into the form it wants to take. One thing L.L. mentions is that handwriting on paper can help get the creativity flowing in ways that typing does not, which is absolutely true. Part of what makes that work for me is…it’s not nearly as easy to continue a bad habit of self-editing as you write when you actually have to go back, erase, and then squeeze new words over the ghosts of the old ones. You have to just have faith, keep writing, and let the words seep into the paper for awhile. Then you can go back and re-work, revise, refashion.

Which brings me back to the novel. I have several chapters of a book written, and it’s a goal of mine to finish the darn thing. It’s been sitting in a little file for ages, gathering dust. In my mind, it’s been written and re-written a thousand times, there a whole passages I know by heart, there are scenes I can see as though I had been there, there are characters I know like I know my friends and neighbors. But they’re stuck. They can’t seem to make it past the third chapter. Every time I think “Ok, here it goes….I’m going to finish writing this thing,” a host of excuses, unfinished business, interruptions and obligations suddenly arrived on my desk in front of me, begging my complete and undivided attention. Why?

Fear.

Because I know that the words that end up on the paper are going to sound nothing like the ones in my head, that the characters who are so real to me will take on the two dimensions of the paper once I try to capture them with words, that the sights and smells and sounds that make up the scenes in my mind will stumble into words and fall flat once I try to capture them.

At least that’s what I’m afraid of.

And really, what if they do? What if I write a really, really bad first draft, one that just doesn’t do what I wanted it to do at all? Maybe I edit. Maybe I edit for a long, long time. Maybe I muster up enough courage to show that really, really bad first draft to a few people who won’t laugh in my face but will be honest about what needs to be changed, and then I write it again. Maybe it never goes anywhere…but at least I will have tried!

So, here’s a letter to my unfinished novel. I’m not making any promises…I am honestly time-challenged right now and need to be careful to keep my priorities in line so that things stay in balance. But maybe, just maybe, I can get past the fear of that blank page and bring something real out of all that empty, white space.

Dear Unfinished Novel….

I want to ask your forgiveness for my years of neglect. I need to you understand, it’s nothing personal. It’s not you, it’s me. You’re a good idea, and you have some potential. It’s just that I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to do you any justice, and so when I sit down and start to approach the writing process I become paralyzed with apprehension. Should I write it this way? Or try another approach? Should I try to write today at all, given that there are dishes in the kitchen sink and I really don’t feel, after all, that great and elusive creative burst that sometimes blesses me with the uncontrollable need to write. Should I force it? Should I wait?

The dishes win out. They are tangible, real, undeniably calling for my attention. You, my Novel friend, are just a bunch of words that remain half-finished, part ink-on-paper and part cloudy idea, written in imagination.

The truth is, while the dishes may be a plausible excuse for not writing…the fear is not. The fear needs conquering, needs to be tamed. And so, dear Unfinished Novel, I would like to get to know you again. I am not promising anything grand, just several short periods of attention per week. Say, half an hour to begin with . Half an hour in which I step out in faith and leave the fear behind, and just write something and not worry that it’s not going to live up to my standards.

Half an hour isn’t that much, in the grand scheme of things. Probably even dirty dishes can manage to wait half an hour. And who knows? Maybe I’ll find that it’s easier than I think. Maybe we’ll dance along at an easy clip rather than stumbling and fumbling and re-grouping again, if I let you lead rather than trying to force my pace on you.

So….we’ll see. A new beginning is always a good thing, a blank page can be an invitation rather than a threat.

Sincerely,

Your Neurotic Writer

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5 thoughts on “A letter to my unfinished novel

  1. Marvelous, marvelous!I loved this line… You have to just have faith, keep writing…, regarding the difference between typing and writing on paper. That’s it, I think, or part of it. Writing by hand has a forward motion into creativity that sets us whirling.So glad you wrote this. 🙂

  2. Go write (you crazy writing liking fool) reach and and pull out those characters, take a chance, look silly (only you will know), redo, redo again, agonize, steel a few minutes. You can do this!

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