I recently read a post from novelist Linda L. Richards, and her words about writing a new novel were especially timely, as I am in the desperate, despairing, wonderous, challenging, exciting, maddening process myself. When I came across her conversation with Margaret Atwood about writers and their new projects, I thought: Aha! That’s it. We all feel the same thing, we all have the same struggle, we all wade in the same waters:
I went around asking writers the following question — and these were mostly novelists. What is it like when you go into a novel? And nobody said: What do you mean, go into a novel? They all said: It’s dark. It’s like a dark room. It’s like a dark room full of furniture I can’t see. It’s like a tunnel. It’s like a cave. It’s like going downstairs into a dark place. It’s like wading through a river. It’s like entering a labyrinth. Isn’t that interesting? … Nobody said: It’s like skippity-hopping around on the clouds. Nobody said that.
I’ve been in the dark tunnel with this novel for a little over a year now. I started it before my daughter was born, believing I would have ALL THIS EXTRA TIME to write while I was on maternity leave. I know, just typing that seems incredibly stupid even to me. But, honestly, I didn’t know. I didn’t know how much time, effort and attention a newborn required. I thought, I’ll write when she naps. I’ll write when my husband is home. I’ll write when her grandparents babysit. Turns out, I slept while she napped. I wanted to spend time with her and my husband when I was home. I wanted to go out for dinner, to take a long bath, to watch a movie, to do anything but WORK while grandparents babysat.
So, this novel is taking longer than any other I have written. I’m about 1/3 in, but feel like I have been there for months on end. I’m stalled, paused, plateaued and it is a strange and slightly unnerving feeling. And then I realized, everything has changed in the last year of my life–new baby, new job, new house–and I am still moving around that dark room that is the novel, trying to feel the furniture. Turns out, I forgot I put the chaise by the window. These are the small details that I need to get back into the novel, to stop thinking about it and worrying about it and just WRITE IT.
I’m planning some extra hours at my campus office, huddled there in the dim light, thinking only about the novel, about the characters who will not get out of my head, about all the furniture that now needs rearranging, dusting, and a little airing out.