I’ve been doing an autopsy on a stillborn novel, rubbing warmth back into it. A smart person would probably let it go, but it kills me that it sits undone.
I’ve been rereading the manuscript I wrote, to the exclusion of almost everything except earning a paycheck, from, say 1988 to about 1995. I carried that sucker around the way I carry my smartphone and journal now; parts of it were written in dyke bars, while ignoring my friends and everyone around me, including anyone trying to catch my attention. My friends called me, “Poor dumb-dumb” for years because of it.
Yes, I am slow — smart, but slow.
Every one of my successes, academic and otherwise, has been a work of diligence. When I entered on my thesis for an MFA in Fiction Writing at Columbia College, I wrote a new novel from scratch. (Yes, it seems a little nuts now; I bust my students for doing the same—hiding away the story that matters most.) I have always wanted to be brilliant and speedy, but I brood and plod. I’m even a slow reader—yes, every fucking syllable has to sound in my head or I find the whole enterprise dissatisfying.
This old manuscript is lyrical. Parts of it are surprisingly good—others make me laugh at my younger self. My process for writing it was relentlessly returning to the beginning for every addition (writing it from beginning to end, of course, instead of skipping around) and polishing the fucker through—by hand. In crimpy scribbled notebooks. It’s a process that’ll kill you.
I’ve since changed my approach. The largest crux, however, is that I’m not the person who started this work, so it will never be what that old self envisioned. I have to let that go. A process I’ve gone through before, but never this close to my own heart on a story I’ve been able to quote lines from for decades.
So, having read it, I call up a blank page, and with a silent prayer to Mercury and Metatron (the angelic scribe), I begin again.
Writing a novel in a year seems impossible. That’s why I’m doing this. I’m tired of impossibility.
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