Diary of a Novel: June 1

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I’ve never been a writer who talks a whole lot about the process of writing. Maybe that’s because I don’t have a local writing community. I have lots of great writing friends scattered geographically, but no one really available for a chat in the coffee shop. This could be good or bad. I really can’t say for sure.

Also, I read once that my favorite writer, Elizabeth Strout, doesn’t hang out with other writers. I still don’t know what to make of this. Is it a kind of self-hatred? Do I not want to belong to any club that would have me as a member?

And then, sometimes I suspect that talking about writing can get in the way of actual writing. After all, the actual writing is lonely. It’s a slog. As one of my writing friend says, it’s a long swim across the channel. In stormy weather. Alone.

I don’t know if this is an attempt to relieve some of that loneliness. It might just be a substitute for social media like Facebook and Twitter, which I have mostly given up in the past few weeks. Mostly, there are things I think about while I’m writing that seem like thoughts that should be shared. So I’m sharing them.

I’m working on a novel right now. It’s not my first. I’m reading an author right now who wrote thirteen novels before his first got published. I’m not there yet. I might get close. Let’s just say it’s not the first novel I’ve written.

It’s summer and I’m a professor, so I have all day to write if I choose. I don’t recommend that.

I’m about 22,000 words in. If a novel is 70,000 words, I’m about a third of the way there. In Scrivener, which is the program I use for writing, I’ve moved from red to orange in the Manuscript Target window. Moving from red to orange is such a victory.

I am drafting this novel. Pulling it down out of thin air. I give a character a name and off we go. It is in turn exhilarating and terrifying. I spend a lot of time in the coffee shop staring out the window, which is its own kind of writing.

I don’t have any deadlines. Just the sense that this is what I want to be doing. I write pretty much every day because I think of writing as a practice. You have to do it and do it and do it so that the not doing of it feels strange. The longer you stay away, the harder it is to come back.

One of the hard things about drafting a novel is that it’s kind of like having first-year advisees. First-years need a lot of attention, but you don’t know them at all. So the people you’re supposed to devote the most time and energy toward are the people you know the least.

It’s sort of the same thing with your characters in the first draft. They need a lot of attention, but you haven’t figured out exactly who they are yet.

On the other hand, the magic of it. The pure magic. You make a person. You create them out of words. And even if just one other person reads it, hopefully you’ve made those people real. Hell, even if you’re the only person who ever reads it. You did that. You made a person and a world and a story. That is magic. You are magic.

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