small sampling of rough draft (first one)
To write a book you don’t have to wait until you can comfortably say you are a writer when you’re at the hair salon making small talk. (it took me about 7 years to admit to people I was writing a novel). You can’t wait until you have the confidence or the right laptop. You shouldn’t wait until you get all of the housework done and the telephone calls over with. That second pot of coffee can wait. I avoided writing because the world was going to end. I didn’t write because others had written all there was to write. I didn’t do it because the self loathing deadened my soul and blank paper felt painful to look at.
Luckily after a while I couldn’t stand being such a coward and just started. I had a tiny idea–no great muse thing. I told myself I’d write three pages each day for one month without judging or rereading and that’s it. That’s how I wrote and still write thousands of pages later. Before I wrote I imagined critics and publishing and years spent in lonely solitude. Once I got about 100 pages in (and those pages were mostly cut out later) I finally felt a muse-like thing happening–but it was really just discipline and with that the discovery of what I was actually into and interested in writing about. I’m not going to lie and say I now have perfect confidence and perfect writing, but I can say I found my purpose and an intense love for my characters that pushes me to get them out there in any way possible. The idea of publishing used to mean for me that I would have arrived–an ego thing–but now it’s more a devotion to the people in the world I created (maybe that’s a bigger ego/God thing?) Unless you’re one of those “outline” people you won’t know what the heck you’re talking about for quite some time and that’s where (in the past) I used to give up. People always give up too soon, don’t they? If you’re really a writer you want to publish–but you can’t stop anyway.
Here’s some early crutches: I used to think that if I didn’t write in blue-black Sheaffer skrip ink with a quill pen fitted with a certain nib–I couldn’t write. I brought the pen and ink set up with me to school where I taught and wrote at lunch. I needed a special college bound notebook, too (ask my kids how many times we searched different office supply stores). I thought I always wrote better in a certain room looking over the pizza joint–turns out some of my best ideas came on road trips or on the school playground–scribbling them down after recess. The entire idea for my fourth book (awaiting some heavy editing) came in about five seconds when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. BUT all of the ideas, the hours put in and the love came after the discipline and refusal to judge myself too soon. I didn’t know the ending of my book. I didn’t know that the characters would live in the dilapidated house on Tenafly Road I saw each day from my classroom window at St. Cecilia’s School in Englewood, New Jersey. Traveling to war colleges and chatting with train enthusiasts (even though they couldn’t find the info I wanted), wearing corsets and smelling of camp smoke–all of it was worth those horribly painful first hundred pages.
Those of you who like to visit Middlemay for the 19th century stuff and begin to yawn at the behind the scenes writing talk –buy my book! I hope you’ll fall in love with my little cast of characters and their lovely town as much as I did.