Sarah R. Callender


In General, Writing on May 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm

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.

  1. Looove it! So great. Can’t wait for the book!!!!!! Chin whisk-ER? Singular? I am jealous.

  2. beautiful!!

  3. Sigh. Brilliant, Sarah. Your writing is such a pleasure to read. 🙂

  4. Sarah, you are a knucklehead but a very talented, lovely knucklehead. Not at all the same kind of knucklehead as when I refer to my children as knuckleheads. Not at all. Your writing is like a medicine, a very addictive medicine that we all need and look forward to. please keep writing and please do not stick anything in your nostrils except your elbow.

    • This is the nicest thing you have ever said to me! And, some of the best advice I’ve ever received. Last night, Husbandio asked me why my elbow was in my nostril. I told him that you were responsible. Thanks so much. Seriously.

    • Sarah,

      I agree with Stephanie that you are a talented knucklehead. I see in you a quiet tenacity. Keep on writing! Writing to be is like birthing a baby if you feel the call to write. You can’t help but do it because the baby has to come out sooner or later.

      Theresa Froehlich

  5. One thing I do is find the flaws in other people’s marriages and thank Jesus at least I don’t have *that* problem. But you make me want to have your marriage’s problems… because then maybe I’d also know what it’s like to have that sweetness too.

    And faith = cherry blossom on the bottom of my shoe? Certain of what I can not see, sure of what I hope for… I am moved by this. Inordinately so.

    If only I were married, I’d weave this into my marriage. For now I’ll just tuck it in my sock.

    • This is such a fabulous comment, Alison. When are you going to write your eight-year lover? I’m serious . . . but no pressure, of course. Thanks SO much for the giggles. For some reason, I imagine you’re wearing tube socks. 🙂

  6. This is my favorite post so far. I was touched. Even while sitting in the airport headed on a business trip to Houston. Thank you for making my day, hour, minute so much better.

  7. I cannot wait to read your book. I expect it will be equal parts silly, witty, and lovely, just like you!

  8. I cannot wait to read your novel – I can’t even wait to read your next post. Each time I read something that you write I sit and think and then break into laughter or occasionally deep thought!

  9. Wow, Sarah. Consider me a knucklehead who knows that YOU have amazing talent. This. Is. Beautiful.

  10. This was really lovely; thank you for still being so inspiring! Congratulations on finishing your novel!

  11. I love you, Sarah. That is all I have to say!

  12. Simply perfect. I, too, cannot wait to read the fruit of your eight-year monogomous relationship. And congrats on finishing!

  13. I smiled through this whole post. Even on a much smaller scale and time line it rings true. I found it very comforting and encouraging to read. Thanks.

  14. Bravo Sarah. Beautifully written.

  15. And, just to clarify . . . my book is still with my agent; we are still hammering out edits before she tries to sell it to a publisher. It’s a loooooong road for sure. But, my dear friend, Schmidtie, told me that the accomplishement should be writing the book. Anything after that (e.g. getting it published) is gravy. I love gravy. More gravy, please? Thanks SO much for reading and for your kind comments.

  16. 6:55 am on a Monday- this is a GREAT way to start a week. I love the Cherry Blossom- I will be thinking about it all week and hoping to track in a few in myself.

  17. OK I just cried tears of joy reading this, I can so relate! (to the marriage thing) Thank You Sarah!

  18. So clever!! I love it!! Congrats to you, and by the way, I’m with you on the gravy. Sop it up girlfriend, only don’t tell my husband I said ‘sop’ because he thinks it sounds po-dunk. HA!

  19. LOVE!!!! I can’t wait and am SO very happy for you! You are brilliant!

  20. Love it! I am struggling really hard on the last third of my novel while my agent and editor patiently (?) wait…and feel like I am trying to make some order out of an old attic full of 200 years of junk and treasures! I have to remember it was like this for the novel presently in print (CLAUDE & CAMILLE: A NOVEL OF MONET). No, it was worse for that one! And I do work on other things when I am just too close to this one just to breathe a little.

  21. Oh. My. Goodness. The lovely Katrina Kittle sent me over here and this was exactly what I needed to read. I have a happy, hard earned marriage and five hideous novels–all unpublished and various degrees of editing. I’ve never seen the parallels but you pointed them out so nicely–like a well-heeled stewardess (or whatever they are calling them today.) Brilliant post. Thanks for sharing!

    • Love it, Nicole. Thanks so much for reading. I have always wanted to be a well-heeled stewardess (back when they were stewardesses, circa 1962, as I love their outfits). Were it not for my terrible motion sickness and my inability to be nice to rude people, it would have been my perfect career. Kudos to you for writing five novels. I suppose that makes you a polygamist! That is truly an impressive accomplishment. I guess it really is faith that keeps us going . . . I prefer thinking it’s faith as opposed to stupidity. Happy day and happy writing/editing/matrimonying.

  22. You are a hoot. And maybe certifiable. I wish I had a better icon than this – 🙂 Love this post!

  23. Excellent! I never believed in writer’s block until it hit me. Thanks for reminding me that the swampy thing happens sometimes and that the cherry blossom is still there. 🙂

    • I am SO with you on the writer’s block belief. It’s kind of like how I wondeedr why depressed people couldn’t just buck up. And then I got a nice little dose of unbuckupable depression myself. Thanks so much for reading and complimenting! 🙂

  24. […] often. But I visited her blog, Inside-Out Underpants, and fell in mad love with a post there called Monogamy–about the similarities between writing a novel and staying married. Seriously, one of the […]

  25. Beautiful and true.

    Now let’s just hope I’m better at writing than I was at being married. I am rock-solid awesome at being a single-mom though, and that takes perseverance and daily work too! Like my 4-year novel!!!

    • Love it. Your marriage might be like one of those “drawer novels” . . . sometimes we write something that seems like a good idea, but it just doesn’t have the legs. Rock on, single Mom. single-momming’s about a million times harder than writing a novel. Keep going. Word by word. A hug to you!

  26. Eight years? Now I don’t feel so awful about the six years I am currently looking at; wonderful post. Perhaps I can finally pick up that collection of notes and pages of writing and move forward, step by step.

    • Yes, Mary Jo! Six years? That’s nothin’. If you’ve been working on it for six years, there’s something sticky there . . . something worth sharing for sure.

  27. This is absolutely awesome. I am still a new writer in my head even though I have been at my novel for four years; I still I don’t know a damned thing!. I either have some serious faith or half a brain. But this is so inspiring and I absolutely get this post as I have been married for 13 years! 🙂

    So glad Therese found you and shared you with the rest of us. I can’t wait to read more.

    • A wise woman once told me that you’re not a “true” writer unless you feel totally scared and unskilled and unprepared and clueless. That was so comforting to me as there are only fleeting moments when I DON’T feel one of those feelings. In fact, when I’m not feeling one of those feelings,it probably means I’m either asleep or eating chocolate (or bacon) or perhaps yelling at/loving on my kids. Gosh, keep going, Hallie. Clearly, the story needs to be told; otherwise it would have fizzled years ago. Congrats on 13 years on marriage too. My husband and I celebrate 13 years this July. Cheers to us for staying on BOTH roller coasters, right?

  28. Beautifully said–like reading a love poem to the writing process. Thank you.

  29. Hi Sarah. This is a very funny post. I am definitely not a monogamist as a writer. I find it best to work on a number of projects at once. My characters don’t always appreciate this. I thought you might be interested to hear what my character, Kate, recently had to say (she has her own blog) about my promiscuous habits. Here’s the beginning of her post “I Am Not Alone”:

    Okay, this is about jealousy.

    My author, L, has been spending so much time on that other book — the one about Mavis — she hardly even takes a moment to acknowledge me with a “good morning” these days.

    She’s at work on half a dozen projects at once. I trained as an artist, and so I understand the value of working on several pieces at the same time. I do. During the first year of my BFA, I took a studio class in sculpture with the wise Professor Weise. He counseled his students to work in series. It will prevent you, he said, from weighing down the piece in front of you. Say there’s an artist, and her current subject, the idea that preoccupies her, is the idea of Guitar; she’ll want to explore that idea in a number of different ways with a number of different media, producing, say, ten or a dozen related pieces. One of the beauties of this, said Professor Weise, is that she won’t go trying to put everything she’s ever felt or thought about Guitar into just one piece. She won’t overload the piece in front of her, because she’s allowed herself, say, nine or eleven other places she can put some of those ideas and emotions. And so her thoughts and feelings will sit more lightly in each of the pieces in the series, and, paradoxically, carry more weight.

  30. I was routed here via Therese on Writed Unboxed, and I must say this is fabulous! Being married is one of my greatest challenges and so is writing, but I can’t stop either! Thank you.

  31. Thanks for this. Of all days, today I needed to read this post. It must be serendipity or something. My novel is blinking at me now as I type. It’s sitting there staring at me from it’s Word window, all innocent and polyanna-like. And I will get back to it. I promise.

  32. Loved this post. Felt like it could’ve been me writing it.
    Danskos. Heeheee! I will look for your book. Mine’s in a holding pattern right now, while I parse success on my blog.

    • Thanks so much for the comment, Hope. Nothing wrong with a holding pattern . . . I really think that we writers have to look at our writing career in “seasons.” Right now, ’tis the season for your blog! Happy writing.

  33. Lovely! And it’s taken me 8 years, too. The first child I had after starting the book is entering second grade in the Fall. Good grief. But I’m in the process of signing with an agent, and ready to start tracking in the next set of cherry blossoms.

    • Good for you, Anjali. We are living parallel lives, you and I. Huge congrats on getting to the agent search stage. Let me know how it goes! I love hearing everyone’s agent search journeys . . .

  34. This is an amazing post — just what I needed. Thank you.

  35. Just what I needed to hear, on the day I needed to hear it. Thanks!

  36. Hi Sarah. I traveled over here from your Pooh-post on Writer Unboxed. You have a gifted pen. I hope you don’t mind if I pull up a comfy chair and visit awhile.
    Your post on monogamy is touching and your thoughts on writing are inspiring. Thank you. A little pick me up mid-week.

    Blessings! Jodi

  37. What a wonderful post! I love the comparison–it works better than I ever would have imagined. Fantastic job. 🙂

  38. […] of wise and witty commentaries on everything from the connection between marriage and writing in Monogamy to ”Darwinistic terrorists” in Conspiracy. Callender is an agented writer, which […]

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