I got my novel printed out today – not printed printed, but just printed. Clear as mud?
In truth, I’ve been sort of avoiding working on it since December. I’ve peeked in here and there and made some tweaks, but what I really need is to hold it in my hands and read it cover to cover. And as much as my Kindle-loving husband has convinced me e-books have merit, I need to read my work printed out to fully understand it. I’m a bit terrified of reading it, but I’m also excited to get in there and start scrawling all over the place.
I picked it up from the print shop and carried it home in a brown paper bag, protecting it from the falling snow. The guy at the print shop read my mind and side-stitched it (it’s been years since I’ve had to use binding terminology, so I wasn’t able to tell him what I meant over the phone). I walked home and clutched the bag to my chest and emitted a low “Eeeeee!” squeal to get it out of my system. Someone saw me, but you know. This is Toronto. People squeal to themselves sometimes.
It’s a humble PNG image, but to me it’s the most exciting one I’ve seen in a very long time. Today I finished NaNoWriMo. I wrote a novel. I almost want to put an exclamation mark on the end of that last sentence, but I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. To me, my novel is just 28 little documents living in my computer and in my brain, nothing more.
I might have mentioned here that I’ve written two “novels” before, when I was a teenager, but they were short and awful and one basically ripped off The Outsiders (which I was obsessed with in Grade Eight). I don’t mention it to show off, but only to hopefully illustrate how different, how real, this novel feels. The other two will never see the light of day, but I put so much into this one. So much thought and consideration. And I even kind of fell in love with every single character and thought about them as I was falling asleep. This novel was hard and frustrating and exhilarating and fun. At first, I didn’t think much would come of it, but over the past few days I’ve decided I’m going to continue working on it in the following months, to make it into something that I hope people other than my mother will enjoy reading.
Mostly, it feels strange to be released from the constant, internet-tracked obligation to write at least 1,667 words a day. It feels strange that tomorrow, nobody will know how many words I’ve written, or if I’ve written anything at all. It feels strange to be able to work on other things. I had coffee with my friend Amy today, when I had 999 words to go, and was telling her about a short story I’d started in October, before NaNoWriMo. It feels like years ago that I was thinking of these three characters in this wee situation they were in. Oh my god, I just realized that I can go back to writing short stories, where 5,000 words is considered close to the limit. Will it be strange to write short stories again? Will I still love it? Will I write another novel, ever?
For now, I’m going to watch Walking Dead with my husband (who has supported me incredibly during this process and has always believed I could do it, even when I wanted to give up) and wash some of these dishes. Maybe I’ll write a novel about it when I’m done. ;)
Visiting my parents is often so much like a ready-made writing retreat. The house is quiet, softly lit, often sleepy. The TV returns seven channels and there is not much in the way of distraction. I sit straight up, I do crosswords from the paper, I write hundreds of words at the kitchen table I carved my name into at age eight.
An oil lamp from Istanbul, a present from my brother. In the background are buttons with the Berlin “walk/don’t walk” symbols.
My old Goose on a Moose print and various old photos of my mother and Finland.
I’m not really a fan of Doris Lessing’s fiction, but I love her as a writer. If she catches me not writing, she shakes her finger at me and tells me to get moving.
A dusty plant given to us by friends, and an old monster made by Suzen a long time ago.
This 1945 penny was in my change from the grocery store a few months ago. I’m not really a monarchist, but I love history and I like to imagine the way the world was when this coin was new. It’s also fascinating to me to have a coin with a different monarch on it (it’s been just one all my life). Remind me to bore you one day with the story of why George VI is facing left.
Until I took these pictures, I never noticed how I’d unconsciously grouped things together – items that remind me of traveling; items with the same colours; items from friends. I also feel a small amount of shame at how sparse my writing area is, especially my four corkboards. The fourth one has just one thing on it! I need some inspiration, I think. So many of the blogs I read are by people who produce tangible things – illustrators, artists, photographers – so their spaces are always so obviously visual. I suppose I could put up things that evoke feelings or ideas – and to some degree I have, but I’m wary of things ending up corny.
There is no greater excitement than starting a story. Finishing a story is satisfying, but in a different way – it’s a worn-out, bleary-eyed kind of happiness. You almost don’t even care. You don’t really remember the thrilling beginning, the new idea becoming a narrative with real, live characters.
Today I took myself and my laptop to a coffeeshop. I opened my Word doc called “Ideas and Beginnings” and picked something at random. I copied and pasted it into a blank document. And suddenly I had a story. I can’t even explain how it happened – and it would probably be boring if I tried – but suffice it to say I spent the next hour solidifying a story that had been in my brain for quite some time. It finally found something to stick to. Very exciting!
I will say, however, that naming characters will always be, for me, the very hardest part of writing.
I also discovered the Taddle Creek Archive and spent some time reading some amazing short stories. Here are some of my favourites:
My husband J and I were sitting on our bed in the dark, our dog snoring on her own little bed a few feet away. I was sitting with my chin on my drawn-up knees and trying to put into words why I’d had such a frustrating day. It was hard, partly because you can’t actually speak too well with your chin on your knees, but also because it’s so difficult to talk about writing, about that vague internal process Doris Lessing always referred to as “wool-gathering.”
One of the only things I was able to put into words was a moment I’d had earlier that day, sitting low on the couch, on the extra-squishy middle cushion. I had an idea for a story. A tiny wee one. It was good. But it was quite complicated. And for that reason I brushed it out of my brain with an old, spiky-bristled broom. And I knew it was a stupid thing to do. When I told J this story, his reaction was, as it always rightly is, “You shouldn’t dismiss your ideas so quickly.” But my problem is – I’ve been doing it for so long! I am an editor by trade and the urge is strong in me. So strong that it could probably be classed as an instinct, like coughing. It happens as I’m writing and even before I’m writing. It’s been happening for years and my brain is a tangled mess of Inner Editor. This is great for my freelancing clients, but not as great for me.
This week, such as it is, I vow to just write anything, even if it sucks. Especially if it sucks. I promise I will not let my inner editor even get out a peep. I might not even care if I spell words wrong!
I’m sad to report that I can no longer remember the story idea I’d had yesterday, though.