I've always loved Robert Hass's quote about writing: "It's hell writing and it's hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written." Though, I must admit, being a younger writer I thought I was exempt from feeling the hell of writing. Memories of those days in undergrad classes where I would write instead of taking notes are still fresh, the pain of sifting through story ideas still very much real. Even working on my first novel didn't produce as many hellish days as I've spent with my current work-in progress.
Maybe the tumultuous birth of this seedling is to blame; the feeling of anxiety, of fear, both so raw and real when I decided to change my graduate thesis. And I'm not sure it helped that this story often felt immense, and necessary. Too often, I felt the pressure to produce something brilliant, blazing with all of the creativity I felt in the days not writing. All of this happened just about two years ago now.
I wrote and rewrote for a full semester. I started the next semester wanting to write more and more, a certain scene burning to be written (but I knew THAT scene couldn't happen until the end of the novel), and I felt, for the first time, like a real writer.
Through pages and pages, almost one hundred to be exact, I felt like I had a story. But there were sections that didn't work because that was a first draft and too often I'm blinded by my own ambition, and perfectionism is very real, and writing true things can be more difficult in fiction than in non-fiction because too often the real bits are there of their own accord, and reading them back hurts.
Now one year ago I sat down with my mentor, Robin Wasserman, and we talked. And she asked me about my story, and promptly told me THAT was not my story. Now most people might have given up at these words. But I'd worked with Robin my first semester, and she believed in my crazy brain from Day One. She knew, maybe better than anyone else, that there might be something even better in that same brain. So she gave me a day and a deadline and I returned to my peers and the mountains feeling like hell.
We met the next day and I pitched her my idea and the excitement was there in both of us. And there was belief from my mentor that I could write this book--something strange and maybe overly-ambitious, and maybe, just maybe, something the world needed as much as I did, too.
I talked the idea over with my second reader, who also happened to be in charge of my peer workshop. He knew the work then, excited about the transformations I had planned, and we talked about heroes and Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler and The Writer's Journey. And I felt the thrill of the new words, and the pain of ditching a year's worth of work and research.
I returned home from that final residency with three deadlines and no idea how to get there. I'd written the first chapter at residency (June 18, 2015) and it was an attempt to conquer my aversion toward first lines. I have always been an endings kind of writer. I love endings, and they often come easy; they become my goal to get through the rest of the book. Beginnings are much more difficult. Knowing where a story really begins is too important, and trying to find what's right is hell. It was the same with this new first chapter.
But I found it. I wrote and revised and spent
more hours in this world than in the real one. I submitted my thesis. I passed. I graduated. I wrote other things. I didn't work on this story because it was all too much. It was Hell.
And then I wrote one chapter.
Then I wrote another.
When I decided to return to my mountains to see my friends graduate, I knew I had a deadline. I knew I NEEDED to finish my novel, which you already know because I've written about that mountain call.
I returned back to my mountain, and it was wonderful and inspiring and everything I'd hoped for. Traveling back through the garden by the pond where weddings are held, I stopped to photograph the surreal beauty. And I continued to my secret spot at the top of the hill, which overlooks the hotel and the mountains, and I felt the need to write.
And it is here that I finished my novel.
One year to the day I began that first chapter, I finished the last!
Now I'm back home, and there are two glaring holes that need to be filled in this story. I know I needed to leave them there in order to get through the other chapters, and now I feel ready to really be done. And so the next few months there will be revisions and red pens and read-throughs and a best friend to edit and maybe even some others reading this work.
Perhaps they need this book, too. Maybe they will see how they've left their mark on this work.
When it feels as perfect as possible, I will send it away, and take another step on my journey toward publication. And maybe, this book will find you on a bookshelf or through your headphones as an audiobook or as a recommendation from a friend. Maybe my words will help you as much as they've helped me.
I suppose that is one too many maybes for one post.