That’s when I began writing “the novel.”
It wasn’t the first novel I wrote. The first one is stuffed into a looseleaf notebook, stuffed into a banker’s box, stuffed on a shelf in the back of a storage space in our basement. Thankfully, there are enough similar boxes there that if one of my children went in search of my first novel, they would probably give up before they found it.
Trust me when I say that it is not worth reading. I know because the year my younger daughter entered kindergarten, I unearthed that box and read it from start to finish. Actually, I started skimming part way through because it was THAT BAD. The actual writing was not terrible; some sections were beautifully articulated, rich with lovely turns of phrase, but the story? Crap. Nonexistent. Three hundred pages worth of pretty sentences and paragraphs that were all working toward different ends. No cohesion. No character development. No building to a climax. No climax at all. Hence, no denouement. It ended when I couldn’t stand myself any longer and put the damn thing in a box and sent it to Siberia.
I was twenty-something then. When I started writing again, I was thirty-eight.
Fifteen years had passed; I’d matured; obviously, since I’d failed so miserably with novel #1, I would use my smarts to approach the process differently with novel #2. That would be the intelligent thing to do.
Yet, when I began again, I did exactly what I’d done before. I started writing chapter one without much forethought, no planning, but with a strong faith that what I had to say would come out fluently, as I wrote it. I’d already categorized myself as a pantster (in writing lingo, that’s somebody who writes “by the seat of her pants” rather than setting out an outline or framework of some sort before beginning to write), so I was quite comfortable with taking the well-worn path that hadn’t worked for me before.
Not so brilliant.
I followed this path for four or five years, writing and writing and rewriting and changing the story every time somebody read a chapter and criticized something about it. Or when I reread a part and found it less than perfect. Or when I didn’t want to push through the hard stuff and figure out how to get to the other side of a plot problem.
By the time my daughter was entering middle school, I was telling those who asked (pretty much anybody who knew I was writing a novel) that I was almost finished the book. That was a big lie. I was halfway through seven or so different novels revolving around the same main character, who happened to be the protagonist in the novel I wrote when I was in my twenties.
I knew I had to finish just one of those seven novels and move on, but which one? They all had good parts; they all had problems that I wasn’t sure I could overcome. So, in typical Sara fashion, I closed my eyes (metaphorically) and pointed to one of the stories and wrote it. Forty-five years old.
I finished a first draft. I went to a conference, pitched it to an agent who asked to see the first eight chapters. Wahoo! She read them and told me it wasn’t for her. Boo hoo. The rejection hurt but every author gets rejections. And I knew it still wasn’t the book I wanted it to be. So I put it through a few more drafts. I had some writer friends read it and give me notes. Wrote one more draft. Attracted five or six agents who read the whole manuscript. And rejected it. Forty-seven years old.
Now I’m forty-eight, almost forty-nine. I’m going through the book one more time. It sounds crazy, as though I am running in circles and expect to end up in a different place when I finish this time. But that isn’t what’s going on.
Something happened to me during the last two years. In addition to working on “the novel,” I completed a first draft of a third novel, outlined a screenplay, and wrote a handful of spoken word poems. Suddenly the one who couldn’t finish a single piece of fiction has become prolific.
What changed? I credit the start of my blog. For the first time in my life, I put my “raw” work out in the world and discovered that what I have to say resonates with people (not everyone, I’m sure, but enough to boost my confidence in my abilities.)
I don’t know what will happen next, but I do know that I am living in a new place, a place where there is not only hope but expectation that I will write books and publish them, whether I do it through the traditional route or self-publishing. My field of dreams has begun to grow. All I had to do was ready the soil, plant some seeds, wait for Spring and invite some people to visit.
“If you build it, they will come.”
I’m pretty old to learn such a basic lesson, but we get places in our own time, I suppose. And the way I see it, I’m only halfway through my life. I have a strong feeling that the best is yet to come.
That’s what’s on my mind these days. What are you thinking about as you enter into the new year?
p.s. Thanks to all of my blog readers. From the bottom of my heart. And the middle. And the top.
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