Here’s a list of things I’ve done for more than two years for free on my own volition that require nothing from any other person other than myself (marriage and motherhood don’t count because those vaunted roles requires a spouse and children, respectively):
Brush my teeth
WORK ON A NOVEL
Last week was my manuscript’s second birthday, and so I’m pausing to reflect on what exactly it means that I’ve stuck with this story that hitherto existed only in my head. Writing and revising a manuscript is not like exercise or brushing my teeth: for one thing, it doesn’t make my ass look more toned, nor does it freshen my breath. The value of working on a manuscript is intrinsic– I feel amazing when I open the current file and compare it to that wobbly first draft, that wasn’t so much a novel as a string of expository ramblings designed to help me work through a number of resentments (law firm life, law school culture, the glass ceiling, mental health care).
I’m not sure exactly how to characterize the draft I have today, but it’s at least not that. Or it’s not just that. There’s other stuff that’s supposed to be there.
Since April 9, 2012, I’ve actually read books on how to write a novel. I went to the Yale Writers Conference to meet other writers, both aspiring and established. I’ve showed up for writing group every single month, then, in a fit of insanity, I joined a second writing group so for the past six months I’ve submitted my work to peer review twice a month. I still can’t believe I’ve done that.
And ohmylord I’m so grateful for the women in my writing groups. They’ve performed CPR on my manuscript, rescuing it from languishing in that deeply flawed second draft. They’ve challenged me (“This would never happen”), offered invaluable suggestions (“Tell us what happens as soon as she finds out”), and they’ve pissed me off (“You know, it takes seven drafts to get to publication”). Oh how they’ve pissed me off as they’ve found every fissure and cracked it open with their iron fists. They were the messengers I wanted to shoot for highlighting weaknesses I knew were there, but hoped were invisible to readers. And without them, there’d be no third draft, no beating desire to reach the summit of publication. Hell, without them, there might not even be story arc, for Plato’s sake.
Today, I’m almost done with my third draft. Sometimes I open the document to a random page and read a few paragraphs that I haven’t worked on in some time. More than once, I’ve found myself shaking my head in disbelief: Did I really write that? That’s funny. Or That’s not half bad. And sometimes, dear readers, I think to myself: Damn, that’s good.
Sure, there are plenty of passages I read that disappoint me because they don’t shimmer on the page like they do in my head. I burn with frustration when I can’t bend, arrange, or control the words to make the story do what I want it to. Sometimes I pick up a new book and find the prose and story so gorgeous that it seems like a criminal act to continue to plod along on my pedestrian path. (Ahem, Ms. Tartt, I’m looking at you and your Pulitzer Prize.)
But I continue plodding along because I can’t stop. I haven’t found a more suitable passion or a more satisfying way to spend my spare time. And now she’s two. Terrible twos. So begins the era when she’s going to start wanting to do everything on her own– there will be tantrums, flailing arms, screaming fits in public places. She’s going to start to separate from me and assert her autonomy, in that long individuation process that will ultimately result her going out into the world uncleaved from me, her creator.
To celebrate this milestone, I’m going to do what’s been working since the beginning: When the kids go to bed, I’m going to sit down and keep writing.