Interlochen: Owning the Novel

A few weeks ago, I explained the challenge I’d been given to write the first 50 pages of a novel (the n-word, as I called it, due to intimidation) along with a synopsis of the remainder of the story. The deadline? The end of July. Three weeks into the project, I am willing to own it: I am writing a novel.

Revision in progress…

The gift of writing those 50 pages in 17 days is that I simultaneously convinced myself I’m working on a story that’s worth telling. Now, with feedback from one reader and another critique coming in soon, I’m revising those drafty pages into what I hope will be a solid novel opening–one that intrigues, informs, gets the heart pounding, and says as much with the words on the page as it says by way of omission (or subtext, as we writers like to call it).

What have I learned so far?

  • That thinking big is crucial to writing a novel, but it’s also tremendously distracting.
  • That breaking the novel down into flash-sized moments or scenes is a helpful technique for a typically “short” writer like myself.
  • That even though I love language more than I love story, it’s still possible to get excited about weaving something epic together, making each character’s intricate traits believable, and even–gasp–narrating longer moments here and there in order to deepen the context.
  • That if you think you can’t write a novel, the first thing you should try to do is write a novel.
  • That having friends who believe in you and laugh kindly at your stubbornness (“No, I can’t. I really don’t think I even know how.”) is priceless.
  • That 600-1000 words per day really isn’t that much even when you’re teaching, and that with a little practice there’s no reason any good writer can’t make use of a 60-minute lunch break when given the space and silence to do so. Sure, we might all prefer retreats in the woods and four hours without interruption, but if you can’t get it, you still have to be able to write. I can say with confidence now that I can, and I have, and I will continue to do so until I’ve got a draft on my hands that someone is willing to sell.

In a little more than 10 days, I’ll upload the attachment and click “send.” The outcome could go any number of ways. I might be told, “Sorry, not what I was looking for,” or “Hmmm, not quite up to par.” Or I could be told, “Hey, nice job. Let me know when you have the whole thing finished.” There’s even the slight chance my synopsis and writing will be enticing enough for a chance at selling the book before it’s written (Oh, I dare to dream, dare to dream).

But no matter what, I’ve expanded my skill set, learned things about myself as a writer that I didn’t know before, and bolstered my confidence with longer-length fiction in a very short period of time. There’s no harm in trying, and now there’s no harm in hoping. The worst I can be told is, “No.” At least no matter what I”ll be able to look back and know that I gave it–and am giving it, right up until July 31st–the very best that I have. Meantime, back to work!

If you live in the area, please consider coming to my public reading Friday, July 20th to hear me read from the first 13 pages of the novel! I’d be honored by your presence at The Writing House on the Interlochen Campus at 7pm. Another fiction writer and a poet will also be reading that evening. Free and open to the public!

(Oh, and I should also say: THANK YOU INTERLOCHEN CENTER FOR THE ARTS. It’s sure nice to be teaching, albeit it 20+ hours per week, in an environment that not only supports but also informs and inspires the arts.)

  • Lynn Lovegreen

    Yay, you're a novelist! I always knew you could do it. 🙂

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