Stick a Fork in it.

For the past few years, I’ve been working on a novel, which has also formed the basis of my MFA thesis. I sent in the final draft. Now I’m going to throw it away because it sucks.

This is the part where well-meaning people ask if I’m sure I’m not being too hard on myself, and after all that work surely I can salvage something and maybe I just need a break? reassure, reassure, reassure.

Let me address this.

I’m probably being a little hard on myself, since no writer has good perspective on anything they’ve just written. But I’m not being too hard myself. Parts of it are good. Parts, I like. Parts could be substantially improved with contemplative time and some effort. But major parts are just not working.

Could it be salvaged into a workable novel? Technically yes. If I were doing a manuscript evaluation of my own novel, I’d point out these parts and encourage the writer to dig deep and work it out, just as my own thesis advisor did for me. But when I actually sit down and try to write and revise these bits, I find myself fighting with the characters. I’m pushing them in directions they don’t want to go. Then we end up in a big fight with the end result being them kind of vaguely pretending to do what they need to do and me being to tired to say anything but “Fine, be that way, I don’t care anymore.”

This is the fundamental problem. I don’t care anymore.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that as much as I study form and rules and structure, everything good that I write comes deep from my intuition. In this novel, I started with a situation that wasn’t going anywhere, and imposed a direction on it, one which sounded really good in theory and then spent five drafts trying to make it work in practice.

I can see now I should have just started with the idea that wasn’t going anywhere and explored it. The parts that work best were the parts that I had no clue about when I started writing them.

Do I just need time? I don’t think so. After I realized that this wasn’t working, I pulled out an old short story, tinkered with it, got some feedback from my writing group and tinkered some more. That’s how I remembered what it’s like to work on something you love. Every time I come back to that story, I remember¬†that I love it. Putting that story out into the world, with my name on it, feels pretty good.

I’m retiring the novel because I don’t love it. The relationship is over, and we’re not going to marriage counselling. There’s a tendency to think of giving up on a project as having been defeated by them, but frankly, I think I’m going to enjoy not beating my head against the wall anymore.

In the meantime, I’ve learned from a lot from this project, about how to write a novel, and also who I am as a writer.

I have some vague niggles of ideas about how I could still do something with this, but not enough of a burning niggle to try.

In any case, I’m done. I’m glad. I spent a lot of the time writing this wishing I was writing something else, and putting this away frees me up to do that.

Second Draft Terrors

If novel writing is a marathon, then my first draft was running a marathon after years of working on short sprints. In other words, it was exhausting. I don’t know how I did it. Except now I am rewriting the whole thing and have to do it all over again.

Is it any wonder I avoided my second draft for months?

I’m afraid of the work. I’m afraid I am lazy. I’m afraid I am really a short-fiction writer with delusions of novel-writing. I’m afraid that after I write this entire draft I will have to find the fortitude to re-write the entire thing again. I’m afraid I won’t find it.

I’m afraid it all sucks. I am likewise afraid that I am writing something good and not good enough to live up to the task of doing it. I’m afraid that I bit off more than I can chew. I’m afraid that it will be too short because there’s not enough there. I’m afraid I’m not as over my revise-o-phobia as I thought. I’m afraid I don’t know what I’m doing and don’t have the mental will to stubbornly do it anyway.

I’m afraid that my own newfound impatience with other writers for having fears is really impatience with myself. GETOVERIT, Sonal. Write anyway.

I’m afraid that everything I have written here about getting past fear and writing in spite of it reveals me to be a fraud.

I’m afraid that if I don’t get this draft done for my thesis deadline I will be THAT student, and I am also afraid that once I am out of this MFA I will never be able to write anything this long again because there is no deadline pressure or fear of being THAT student. I’m afraid that left to my own devices I will write jack shit.

I’m afraid that my life is too chaotic right now for me to be doing this. I’m afraid that my life will never be less chaotic. I’m afraid that the things I say about the chaos of my life are a weak excuse for not writing because somehow I still find it in me to keep up with Masterchef.

I’m afraid I like discipline. Scratch that, I know I lack discipline. I’m afraid I won’t be able to develop enough to really be a writer.

I’m afraid I’m not really a writer. (There’s a fear I haven’t felt in a while.) I’m afraid I’m just playing at this.

I’m afraid there is no point in talking about any of this because everyone has those fears including the people who write fifteen drafts per novel. (Bastards!)

I’m afraid that I already know better than to get mired up in fear. I’m afraid that I’ve been giving lip service to courage all this time because deep down inside I just don’t have the guts. I’m afraid I’m all talk, no writing. I’m afraid all the magic courage fairy is not coming for me because there is no magic courage fairy.

I’m afraid I should be writing my book instead of this blog.