Living Inside a Novel

With about 10 days of this fellowship
left, I find myself reflecting a bit on my time here and how it compares to
others I’ve experienced. The most immediate change I have felt has to do with
my sense of place. In the past, my sense of place was tied deeply to the land,
people, and history of wherever I found myself. Now, my sense of place is tied
to my novel–an intangible, half-written thing I carry around in my head that
no one else can see. It’s a contrast worth contemplating.

When I spent 31 out of 36 months on theroad, I blogged about local history, local legends, local people, sites to see,
and experiences I had walking the land (or motoring the seas). Although I was
still writing about war during these travels, for the most part, The Writing
Life blog served as my public sketchpad for the unique and interesting
experiences I sought along the way. When that time came to a close, I was able
to look back, make a “map” of my experience, and give it a name: The
Undiscovered Country of the Nearby. I considered, even, that a collection of
essays about life on the road would be my next book.

But I’m off the road now and have been
since August. I have a home in an Airstream in the Black Mountains. Somehow, I
feel that if I keep saying this publicly, that will make it true. Leaving that
home was, in some ways, the most difficult part of this fellowship at Randolph
College. Home is something I have wanted for so long, and worked hard to make
again. I felt–and still feel–very torn about the fact that my life as a
writer will often dictate leaving home behind for large chunks of time.
What’s come out of this, though, is a new
sense a place centered around the work. The writing has been with me for years,
by which I mean: for years, I have known it was what brought me the most
happiness and therefore I would devote my life to it. But working on a novel
for days on end in a basement apartment in a city that I haven’t glimpsed much
more than 3 square miles of, will do something to sense of place. It’s enabled
me to “live inside” the work, as I’ve heard other writers say before.
What did they mean by that? I might be starting to figure that out a little.
For instance, I can call my characters up
at any time. If I read an article about Afghanistan, my mind’s eye often goes
to fictional settings in my novel rather than the real one being described in
the article. Likewise, if I see a soldier in the grocery store, I conjure my
protagonist Nathan, and start mapping similarities and differences. In this
way, reality and fiction bleed into one another right down to the level of my
five senses, and I think I like that. This makes sense, after all, because some
days I send more time in the world of my novel than the material world that’s
holding me up in my chair. Another thing that happens is that I don’t talk
about the work much because I’m too deeply in its trenches. Sure, I can tell
someone I’m working on Chapter 20. I can even say I’ve got a plot problem with
ISAF soldiers and a US Army platoon on separate missions on the same stretch of
highway on the same day. But in day-to-day conversation, I’m don’t find myself
chomping at the bit to explain exactly what it is I’m doing with the
work…because I myself still don’t really know yet.
And so, dear readers, if you’ve noticed a
shift in The Writing Life these past months you’re not alone. This here writer
who swore she’d never write about writing, seems to be doing a lot of that on
this website. It’s the two times a week I force myself to extract a lesson or
two from living inside the work. And there’s a very good chance I’ll be at this
for a long time, if my fellow novel-writing friends’ past experiences are any
When I get back home, there’s a chance
I’ll feel pulled to write about my beloved Black Mountains more. And of course,
Gus the dog. But home isn’t something I’ve had very much of in a long time and
part of me wants to keep every morsel of it for myself. For at least a little
while longer. And in the meantime: I’ve got a novel I’m moving into. It’s time
to do some heavy lifting. Somehow I feel things have only just begun…
  • Lynn Lovegreen

    It's natural for you to live in your head, so to speak, while you work on your novel, and it's bound to spill over into your blog.

    I like your line "I force myself to extract a lesson or two from living inside the work," nice concept.

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