So I Wrote a Novel

002Well, I drafted one, and am now rereading it and lightly editing it. My plan is to then give it to 2-3 friends to read. They will then proceed to tell me, politely, that it’s not so good, or really bad. I suspect this mainly because I enjoyed writing it. In fact, I had a blast, which likely guarantees the book probably sucks. I have always been deeply suspicious of anyone who “loves” to write, subscribing to both Hemingway’s postulate that “easy writing makes hard reading” and its kissing cousin, attributed to Gene Fowler, that “Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood appear on your forehead.”

I drafted the novel as part of this insane thing called National Novel Writing Month, which advocates will point to as a great, social act of getting thousands of writers in motion and critics likely view as a flock of amateurs deluding themselves. I suscribe to the first theory, not just because I did it, but because I admire people who leap in and try it. I have spent too many years around students who loathe writing, who see no value in it, and can not even see the utility to it, even though it is, to my thinking, the most important skill they could learn. National Novel Writing Month put me amidst people who are committed to writing.

The goal is to hit 50,000 words, and I both did and didn’t. I reached 58,980 words in the month of November, but that included a 10,000 word head start from when I first started this novel in 2012. So I didn’t actually write a total of 50,000 words, but I still consider myself a winner. Then I kept writing until the novel was in a complete draft, finishing on December 5th with about 63,000 total words. So I was done with 53,000 words on November 35th.

Many people like to say they have a novel in them, and I don’t doubt that. I subscribe to just a few theories, but one is that story-telling is an essential human need. Indeed (and I will find some references), there is even some evidence that our psychological health is linked to our ability to tell and hold onto some stories about ourselves. In my case, I am a dad and husband. I came from a very modest background and have achieved a slightly better background. I work hard to overcome certain things that happened to me along the way. I try to be a good man. That is a story I tell myself, and it helps me to tell it. And retell it.

So we tell ourselves these stories, and some of us feel compelled to even invent others. For my part, I have gone at two novels, one of which I started in graduate school. I have three OK chapters done for that one. And now this one. One part of me imagines it published, modestly well received, and giving me a ticket into more kinds of teaching. The other, reasonable part of me is glad that it’ done, and even happier that I have risen each morning for more than a month and written every single morning. I am sitting here at 6:53 AM, having reread and lightly edited a chapter from the novel and now having written this blog entry. It’s November 39th. A year from now it could be November 404th and I could still be writing. Wait, November 405th–next year is a leap year.

The above image is from James Joyce’s Dubliners, of course, a copy I bought in my Junior Year of College. I devoured it. The marginal notes almost match the number of words in the stories themselves. It became my book, and Joyce became and remained my man the next five or more years until I discovered Andre Dubus. I have always thought Joyce spoke to me directly–the Irish near-half of me, the Catholic me, the tortured me. He was both a blessing and a curse. You read Joyce and matching him or even doing something 1/10 as good as him feels impossible. Maybe I could finally write something now because the voices in my ear are more generous–Richard Ford and Richard Russo, Dubus still, a few others. Their writing is just as brilliant, their story telling masterful, their characters remaining in your mind for years to come. But they also write in the vernacular. They don’t go for the verbal pyrotechnics, the deeply obscure, almost taunting, biblical, literary, historical, and mythological references.

But Joyce is still there for me, especially Dubliners, especially those rich and sweet and thoughtful stories. I have him to thank for deepening my love for literature, even if he intimidated me for 36 years. I have written something 1/100 as good as he something he would have written, and I am ok with that. I am more than OK with that.

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