Z Blog: The novel-writing sickness
Want to be cranky, anxious, anti-social, distracted, conceited, out-of-shape, pressed for time, exhausted, short-tempered and occasionally mean? Want to be an obsessive-compulsive hermit who doesn’t keep in touch with his friends ” a frothing shut-in ” a jabbering crazy old coot before your time?
Try writing a novel.
Not poetry. And not a short story. Not a few weeks of scribbling ideas for something that might be a book or a screenplay or just a lark to keep yourself busy.
I’m talking about sitting down before dawn every morning for a year or more ” or spending all Saturday afternoon locked away in the den ” god forbid, skipping powder days! ” and, boiling with aspirations of serious fiction, grinding out 300, 400, 500 pages of dazzling style, gripping and unique plot, rollicking humor and heartbreaking emotion, and irresistible characters.
Of course, the writing can make you ecstatic ” that is, when you don’t feel like throwing up over all the time you’ve wasted. The creativity can send you on a massive ego-trip ” that is, when you’re not sinking into a deep depression over all the superficial, self-indulgent hooey you’ve spewed out.
Novel-writing is a form of low-grade mental illness. Imagine the commercials: “Do you find yourself waking up in the middle-of-the-night and scribbling ideas on used tissues? Do you sink into an all-day funk trying to figure out how to make the unlikely but dramatic romance of two characters seem realistic? Try Berzercatrex.
“Side effects include mixed metaphors, incomplete sentences and flat dialogue. People planning to relax or have social lives or should not take Berzercatrex, because of a certain sociopathic reaction.”
There are no small pleasures in novel writing. Unlike a painting, you can’t just step back and see how the whole thing’s coming along. Unlike songwriting, you can’t just play your new three-minute masterpiece to adoring friends at a party. It’s more like trying to stare at a mountain range in a dense fog. You can’t pick out the peaks, you can’t spot the soaring cliffs ” it’s just a blurry mess.
Writing a novel is a schizophrenic endeavor. The description of a rainstorm sweeping over a tropical beach that sounded so masterful one day sounds like a load of crap the next; that small-town parade gone awry that seemed so ironic and hilarious one day seems contrived ” something from a lame sit-com ” the next.
And in the middle of it all, you get to page 394 and can’t remember what color hair you gave the main character’s high-school girlfriend hundreds of pages ago. Or what her name was. Or even if you gave your main character a high school girlfriend.
And after all that anguish, the hard work begins: finding an agent and getting your novel published.
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