This week I am rejoicing! I have finally completed the first start-to-finish draft of my novel. Daydreams In The Dark has a beginning, a middle and an end–the bones of plot, character and theme are in place, the skin of the story drawn tight. Only the meaty details need to be shaped and added. The pages are reasonably polished after many revisions, though they will of course need more work. Satisfaction and bliss are clutched in my fist as I sit here at my computer today.
What a journey it has been. I began writing Daydreams In The Dark in October of 2013 and it is now June of 2016. I took time out for the publication rites of Bespotted and for the usual Christmas insanity each year, but apart from that the work has been steady–and hard. In the autumn of 2015, upon advice from a trusted friend and very popular writer, I tossed my then-final manuscript of three hundred and fifty pages, and started over. (You may recall this tale from an earlier newsletter.) What this adds up to is that in the past eight months I have written four hundred brand-new pages, which feels to me like a miracle. Considering how long it took me to write that other draft I pitched in the wastebasket, it is a miracle.
I have never discarded an entire manuscript before, though I do have one finished novel sitting at the back of my desk drawer because all the publishers to whom it was submitted turned it down–after I’d put in four years of work. But such is the life of a writer, full of twists and turns, criticism and praise, rejection and acceptance, unexpected events that interfere with your progress, surprising bursts of inspiration that carry you onward, and the grind of just plain old regular hard work–as in any profession.
There are a lot of public misconceptions, myths really, about writing. Like: it is easy and flows without interruption; your muse makes a regular and daily appearance; it gives you immense freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want. Each one of these ideas are very romantic and sound delicious, but all of them are untrue.
I sit down every day after breakfast, and make myself face the page. This usually gives me anxiety. Perseverance is required to proceed. I don’t depend solely on inspiration, or even my imagination, to stoke the fire. I stay in my chair for at least four hours, and then get up, totally exhaustedly mentally even if I haven’t managed to write a paragraph. I am good for nothing else all day long, other than catching up on literary busywork, running errands, and cooking supper. After Brad and I wash the dishes, I try to read or watch TV, but generally fall asleep in the middle of both, sometime around nine.
All of this is to say that writing is a job like any other, whether you do it full-time, or cram it in around the edges at night or during the wee hours of the morning while you do something else to support yourself daytimes. You have to be dedicated, self-motivated and willing to push through the difficulties and frustrations we all experience in our work. And most people just don’t seem to get that. How many times have I heard, “Oh, I’d love to write a book! I have a great story in mind!” And, in fact, they may have a tale that would fascinate, but they don’t realize what is required to tell it.
Those who do “get” the way it works are generally writers themselves, even if they don’t create using precisely the same methods you do. I am lucky enough to have a “writer’s group,” which consists of three other women: two working on biographies, one on short stories. I am the sole novelist and memoirist of the bunch, but writers are writers regardless of genre and can advise about any manner of problems. My group’s feedback has been invaluable to me, and I consider myself blessed every time they have read Daydreams In The Darkand given me reactions, which I then use to revise.
The help of a professional editor does not come, unfortunately, until you sell the book to a publishing house–or unless you are willing to pay someone who is freelance. For instance, I do also work as a private consultant with those needing help with their manuscripts. Doing critiques such as these expands and enriches my ability to evaluate my own work with a clearer eye, as well as guiding others on toward their goals. But it doesn’t get me any closer to being published–which is never a certainty and definitely doesn’t pay you a living wage, unless you are lucky enough to be Stephen King or Danielle Steele. Every writer I know personally struggles to pay the bills.
So if you’ve got a story to tell, come on in, the water’s fine. But be forewarned before you dive off the ledge: you’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of you, work that may hold no reward other than self-satisfaction. Inspiration can be fleeting, and yet you must confront your blank page, preferably daily, but at least as often as possible if you are going to finish a project fueled by heart, soul, and intellect. As the singer Patti Smith says, “In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth.” And to that I say Amen–Patti’s got a good grip on what it’s all about.