What you’ll need: a plot, patience

Songlist: Paperback Writer by the Beatles, Open Book by Cake

Further reading: On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner

If he can do it, so can I. Right? He's nothing special. Right?

It was a gray, uninspired Monday in October, the first day of the 43rd week of the year. She had run out of topics.

Yeah, that’s today, and yeah, that’s me. It’s not completely true, but fiction never is. The sky is more blue than gray, and I have at least a few weekly themes still up my sleeve. But as I was thinking through these remaining topics, none felt quite right today. So I’ve decided to venture into risky territory: the truth about me.

If you’ve read this blog at all, you can probably guess that I like writing. I always have. I wrote my first story when I was four, which was before I knew what the letters I was drawing signified. In second grade I got special permission from my teacher to sit outside in the hall every day for a half hour and work on a novella called “Mary and the Deer.” I had a dream to become the youngest novelist ever published (my goal was to be published at 12, and I remember being someone sad on that birthday, knowing I’d let the deadline slip past me).

Knowing I wanted to write novels for a living is like knowing one’s own sexual orientation: it was an early and immutable fact about myself, something I could not change even if I wanted to (and I don’t). Still, it feels risky to admit. All the other jobs I’ve highlighted over the past 10 months in this blog have been wonderful dreams, but also ones I’m all right with letting go of. Not writing a novel is the one thing that I would regret more than any other on my deathbed.

The stairs up to the Loft Literary Center--built to look like pages of a book

For that reason, I signed up for a course at the wonderful Loft Literary Center this autumn called “Working on Your Novel.” I thought of an idea for a novel about a year and a half ago, and started writing about a year ago. After writing every single day for two months I got burnt out and stopped completely. I was hoping this class, which started in September, would help me get back on track. I was hoping especially that my teacher or a classmate would give me some invaluable insight about how I might proceed.

Two weeks ago it was time for my manuscript–all 60 pages I have so far–to be critiqued. When my teacher came around she had a few questions about characters and plot. But she had just one piece of advice: keep writing. Her main objective for me? Finish the novel by the end of the course. I must admit, this was a little disappointing and very terrifying to hear. I already knew I had to do that; I needed to know how.

But, alas, that’s the truth about writing: there are no shortcuts. I can read all the how-to books and interviews with writers I want (and I do so love reading them!) but in the end there’s only one way to finish a novel: keep writing. On that note, I’ve gotta go; I’ve got some writing to do.

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