Revising the Novel: A Physical Act

I’m three weeks and about sixty pages into the 4th revision of the novel, giving myself anywhere from 1-3 1/2 hours per morning, a minimum of four mornings a week. That’s not much time if you think about it, and I aspire to have that number reach an even 4 hours per day, 5 mornings per week–but there are, in fact, bills to pay.

I’m learning more than I can express in a single blog post, so I’ll continue this “Revising the Novel” series for as long as I can. Today, I want to share what I’ve learned about the physicality of writing by saying this: I’ve never written anything before that actually made me feel tired like this novel does. Not sleepy…not “out of it,” but flat out tired. Novel writing is a physical act. Line by line, paragraph by paragraph, it requires actually creating an entire moment out of nothing and then maintaining that discipline for hundreds of pages. It is for this reason that I don’t worry when I write only 1 paragraph in 1 hour, or just 3 pages in 3 hours. This is slow and steady work, or as Haruki Murakami writes in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: “To be able to grasp something of value, sometimes you have to perform seemingly inefficient acts. But even activities that appear fruitless don’t necessarily end up so.”

I just finished Murakami’s book on Audible and will likely listen to it again (it’s quite soothing while I’m in the car). Brad has the printed version, which comes in handy for quotes and seeing how Murakami structured the prose sections on the page. But more than anything, this book has been a perfectly-timed gem as I prepare to run my first “race” in two weeks. Mind you, it’s just a 5K…but it’s the warm up to what will be my first 10K this winter. And it’s certainly the first time I’ve PAID to go running (the absurdity!)…

I have no idea quite why this burning need to run competitively (if only in competition with myself) is just now taking seed. Why couldn’t I have watered this in, say, my twenties? Apparently I had to wait until after two foot surgeries, two stress fractures and dislocations in my feet, one metatarsul break, and three extraordinarily painful bouts of plantar fasciaitis (one of them occurring right now, courtesy my Wonderland Trail adventure). Of course, the writer in me knows exactly what this is about–discipline, fresh air, and achieving a state of mind necessary to feed my creative spirit to push through the barriers. Murakami talks about it as splitting rocks, which feels about right: “I’ve become quite efficient, both technically and physically, at opening a hole in the hard rock and locating a new water vein. So as soon as I notice one water source drying up, I can move on right away to another.”

So when I think about the novel as splitting rocks, and when I try to make sure I’m getting 8 hours of sleep a night and 4 days a week of exercise, it is not because I’m selfish or unaware of cutting other priorities out of my life in service of these. (Dear friends: I miss you. Dear pint of beer: Please stay chilled.) It is because it’s my job. How I live my life away from the desk absolutely informs the quality of my abilities to write when I am at the desk. My ideal day, in a perfect world? This: 6-7 breakfast and meditation, 7-8 silent reading, 8-12 writing and lunch, 12-1 email (blick!), 1-4 exercise, 4-7 shower/cook/eat, 7-10 reading/meditation/down time. Murakami puts this nicely: “I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone, as well as four or five hours alone at my desk, to be neither difficult nor boring.”

And with regard to endurance, which writing a novel and running naturally require: “The only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be…Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life—-and for me, for writing as well.” Which is why I never compare myself to other writers and…hopefully…to other runners.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.