Writing a novel is a lot like staying married. Not getting married, but staying married.
At some point, you wake up and you realize that writing is light years from glamorous. You notice your novel has morning breath. Your novel farts a whole lot more than it ever did when you were dating. Your novel leaves its underwear on the bathroom floor or takes two sets of car keys to work, leaving you stranded at home, or washes your brand new silk sweater in the washing machine.
Likewise, your Cute Antics aren’t all that cute anymore. And your novel gets that thin-lipped look (understandably) when it notices those piles of papers and drafts of chapters and recipes torn from magazines you have been promising to clean up for months. Your novel questions why you pull into the garage so far to the left when there is so much room on the right. And that’s a valid question.
Even worse, you notice your novel is starting to act a little distant, Because of stress at work, it claims, that’s all.
But you wonder.
You wonder if maybe it’s distant not because of professional stress but because you’re 40-ish, and 40-ish brings all sorts of weird body changes that are not at all alluring. And it doesn’t help matters when you wear your Phineas and Ferb t-shirt to bed and in the morning you’re all puffy in your bathrobe with that crazy Heat Miser bed head hair and you’ve got that chin whisker.
You feel your novel staring at you (when you’re not looking) wondering how this happened. And sometimes (when you are looking) you see your novel watching you with that expression that makes you realize it has just realized that the stupidest thing it ever did was to trust you, of all people, you, to tell its story.
You, too, kind of wonder how all this happened. Why you think YOU could ever write a publishable novel. Why you are any different from one of these knuckleheads:
These are dark times for a writer.
During these times (you call them the Swampy Times), when getting words on the page is akin to summiting Mt. Rainier in concrete shoes and rusty chainmail, where your whole novel suddenly seems like the result of a dinner with way too much garlic, when just sitting in the chair and staring at your computer makes you want to stick crab forks up your nostrils, when doing something like helping Old Mrs. Lee (three doors down) clean her bathroom and her fridge would be much more fun than writing Chapter Seven, you sit your elbows on the desk.
You close your eyes.
You allow yourself to fantasize that you’re all dolled up in a cute dress and some mascara and sassy heels, setting out to find another Great American Lover to write.
But you don’t. You are so tempted. But you don’t.
You are not sure.
You think, though, it has something to do with faith. A whispery, cherry blossom of faith that flutters from tree to ground and gets stuck on the sole of your Danskos and after just a few steps becomes part of your shoe sole, traveling with you whether you like it or not.
That whisper of faith tells you to keep putting black on white, to keep sitting at your computer day after day, to hide the crab forks, to vow to help Mrs. Lee clean out her fridge only after your writing is finished for the day.
Because, as a life-saving marriage counselor once told you when your marriage was so swampy, (you’re paraphrasing here), there is nothing quite as beautiful as a good marriage (and yes, it does have to be a good marriage) that has stood the test of time. There is no other relationship like it. Best of all, there is great peace and deep satisfaction in the accomplishment of working at something every day, even when working at it just seems too tiring.
Likewise, you edit and revise and write and rearrange and extract main characters and revise and edit some more. Then you share chapters with your trusted writing group and writer friends, lifesaving, painfully honest, talented writers themselves, who urge you to keep honing it, who tell you to ignore the terrible-voiced voice that sits on your shoulder and tells you what a crap writer you are. And even though you suspect that these smart and talented writer friends are delusional and biased, you heave one of those dramatic sighs and sit back down at your computer and trust. Because there’s still that cherry blossom stuck to the bottom of your shoe, the blossom that just won’t go away no matter how many times you worry you’re just another knucklehead who thinks she’s got talent.
Months and years pass like this, until finally, the characters in the book (it’s their book; it was never really yours anyway) are real. As real as your real friends and family. And while you see it was never your story, you finally have a novel that feels like something on which you’d be proud to see your name.
But eight years? It took you eight years?
Yes. Yes it did.
And the fact that it took eight years makes the finishing even sweeter. Just like the staying married part gets sweeter and sweeter, the cheery cherry blossoms sticking to your feet, to your kids’ feet, to your Husbandio’s feet, as you track your faith all over the floors of your home, leaving faith blossoms in your path, following other faith blossoms that guide your way even when the way seems uncertain.
That’s how you keep working on the same novel for eight years.
At least that’s how I did.