On writing a novel or, things forgotten along the way

I've been trying to write a novel, as you likely know all too well, for a number of years now. (Is she still talking about that?) And the main obstacle in my journey seems to be: I've never done this before. Well. I suppose we could say the real obstacle is the millions of fears dusted up by the fact that I've never done this before, but that feels a bit like splitting hairs. The thing about me as a writer is that first drafts come easily to me. I write quickly and decisively in the early throes of inspiration. Whole chunks of exposition and dialogue present themselves to me at one time and I scramble to transcribe them before my brain moves on. I've always been - for better or worse - a binge writer, as opposed to someone with daily discipline. (I'd like to be the latter. I would. Although not, apparently, enough to actually do it.)

I may have mentioned briefly in my prior "catch-up" post that I'm getting my MFA. Getting the help and the discipline I need to finish this novel was one of a few key reasons I had for pursuing that. Before I enrolled at Antioch, I had what was maybe a second draft of my novel and while I knew that there were giant holes needing patched and bridges needing built, I couldn't seem to figure out for the life of me how to approach them.

Now I'm in graduate school and I've figured it all out and gotten the book written and it'll be published any day now by a respectable imprint.

No. Not really.

But graduate school has made me re-committed to finishing this novel. It has made me re-committed to learning all I can about writing and, to that end, especially, I am devouring books like a reader as I haven't in years. It's clearer to me now what I like and what I don't like and how to make some of the jaggy-edged pieces fit in just so, how to spackle some of the holes.

And one of the real blessings is that I get to work with a mentor for each project period, or semester. Having someone focused on my work in its entirety and for more than a few days at a weekend workshop is proving priceless. I need a little hand-holding right now. Or, if not hand-holding, then I need someone shining a flashlight on the path for me.

Recently, I found myself, though not producing many new pages, finally figuring out not just what needed to be fixed but also (I think), how to fix it. It didn't come to me in a dream. No, it came together - as much as it has, so far - mainly because I gave myself permission to consider the Thinking portion of events as valid as the Writing portion of events.

I kept having to silence that loud voice in my head insisting that what I was doing, thank you very much, was actually procrastinating. Overcoming that negative self-talk might have been the biggest struggle of all. Yet, at the end of it, I had sat down, figured out a new timeline of events in the novel, made notes of all the places that need tweaked, the things that needed added and/or removed. It was a monumental moment for me as a novel writer and, so, of course...I freaked.

I became catatonic. Because it is quite one thing to finally have broken through and created for yourself a blueprint and another entirely to then have to do the work. I am not a person, it seems, who loves to do the work.

I arranged to have a phone meeting yesterday with my kind and generous mentor to discuss my blueprint and, perhaps more importantly, how to get unstuck. She helped me figure out a concrete plan for approaching this next draft - I'm to make a list of everything that needs to be done; rank each item as either "easy," "medium," or "difficult"; commit to tackling a certain number of these items per week; and when I sit down to work on them, choose whatever I feel like doing at the time.

All of that was - is - of course supremely helpful. But then she also made another suggestion, almost an aside, and it is, naturally, the thing that has most stuck with me since. She suggested I change the way I'm thinking about the writing. I've obviously got myself bogged down with thinking of this as a task, something large and unwieldy that I have to do. Instead, she suggested I approach each scene, each change asking myself, "Where is the opportunity to discover more?"

And then she said this: "Try to get back to the joy in the writing."

The joy in the writing? It has been so long since I framed this book as anything other than a task I had to finish, a thing I had to do, that I had completely forgotten - as embarrassing as it is to admit - that there is supposed to be joy in writing. Pleasure in discovery. The thrill of hammering out a good sentence, the feeling when a new character shows up and you know she's what you need. Joy.

When did I get so far away from that? How do I move back? I'm not sure yet. It's probably worthy of an entire blog post of its own. For now, though, I'm again giving myself permission to Think about it. The joy in writing. What a strange, obvious and wonderful goal.