I am in the middle of writing a novel.
I’ve been writing this novel for years. It began as a family story. It turned into a short story for a college writing class. Now, I have 30,000 words and I tell people that I’m writing a novel.
It’s true. I am writing a novel, but I’m also mothering three children. I’m teaching them to read and write and count and make breakfast for themselves. I’m teaching them to clean their own toilets and hang up their sweaters. I am a wife, a friend, a homemaker.
The novel is secondary on purpose. My family comes first.
I’ve wondered if I should give up this novel. It’s so hard to write. But then– is it hard to write because aside from the novel itself, the longest thing I’ve ever written was only a few pages long?
Some writers say that they have a hard time writing short pieces, that they just can write and write and write forever, that after a few months, they could have a draft of a novel. Perhaps I’m exaggerating the time frame, but it has always been easier for me to write brief, poetic, flash pieces. A writing friend who has been reading my novel-in-progress recently gave me some glorious feedback that should have made me want to write novels forever and ever and keep going until it was finished. She asked if it was really a first draft. She said she was deeply impressed. She said that my technique and my flow was consistent.
This got me thinking, though. The writing has been slow. Every time I sit down to write another scene (which is not often, mind you) I feel like the words are being pulled out of me like ribbons from a magicians throat. You know that trick? The one where the magician opens his/her mouth and shows some color that should not be there. They yank and a long scarf/ribbon comes out. It’s longer than you would think.
It seems I am unable to just quickly spit out words for this story. Instead, I am transported. The words travel from somewhere deep and perhaps that is why it reads like I’ve been working on it for a long time. It is not a first draft, but it is nearly so. The words that are on the page right now are new because I have re-written the novel a few times. I had begun with a different backstory in mind and when some other friends suggested that I use the real story of my family history, that it would be better, I began again. It’s not that I’ve edited the words so many times, but perhaps that I’ve held them for so long.
Aren’t all great stories ones that grew in someone’s soul for years? Aren’t they always the stories we’ve heard over and over again and then we live them or find them fresh? Aren’t they wrought with themes that we’ve known our whole lives, made new with men and women we are just now creating?
Yes, I am writing a novel. Slowly, surely, with so much fear and truth that tangles and twists and pulls at my guts and makes me want to throw up. But instead I continue to stand like a magician, one who has not trained in magic but finds herself pulling on hidden ribbons anyway.