Monday, April 9, 2012

Hark! It is the sound of a Novel being born.

I want you to know I've never done this before.

I'm just a girl who started with an idea and ran with it.

I hated English in junior high and high school.  As a matter of fact, I failed English two semesters of 8th grade, but passed with a D, thanks to my grades in the other two semesters.

It wasn't that I couldn't do it.  I could.  But there was so much I misinterpreted about the lessons being taught to me by my 8th-grade English teacher.

I thought I was being forced taught to believe that writing was cut and dried, black and white.  I thought that's what he was trying to communicate to me.  When it came time to study symbolism, for example, we went over the short stories of Stephen Crane; an excerpt from one of his novels, The Red Badge of Courage.

We learned that the color red always stands for blood.  We learned that any character with the initials J.C. is an automatic representation of Jesus Christ.  We memorized the concept that nature always meant "the unknown, something to be feared."

I misunderstood.  I thought that meant always always.

I began to imagine those early writers then, no longer just telling a story, but trying to force some sort of hidden code on me.  It cheapened writing for me.  My misinterpretation came in because I never picked up on the fact that symbolism is nothing more than a literary criticism of a work.

I began trying to decipher everything I'd ever read, and suddenly nothing made much sense anymore.

At 13 years old, I probably weighed all of 85 pounds, and I'm fairly certain I gave my English teacher a bit of hell those two semesters.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that I'd muttered this is stupid under my breath fifteen times in a single class period.

Because I didn't want writers to have an agenda.  I didn't want writers to have a formula for their work.

Formulas were for math, not English.  Enough said.

Fast-forward to the summer between 10th and 11th grades, and there I sit, in summer school because I failed to complete a book report in my 10th-grade English class.

I'd read this wonderful book.  I can still remember the title:  Reindeer Moon.  It's been 22 years since, and I can still remember how much I enjoyed the book.  What I did not enjoy, however, (and what I refused to do that landed me in summer school) was to pick apart someone else's work with a fine-toothed comb, and lay it out for everyone to see.

Dissection was for biology, not English.  Enough said.

I walked around with a chip on my shoulder regarding English until I started college.  It was my 21st birthday, and rather than going out and getting shitfaced with my friends, I sat in my first-ever college class.  Biology, from what I remember, but I also took ENC 1101 that semester, and 1102 the following semester.

And I loved it.

I loved it, but I had no idea what to do with that passion, other than jump back into reading.

In 2009, I went back to school to take a few courses in Creative Writing.

And now, I'm writing my novel.

Just a woman with a dream.  An idea.  A start to something.  And I worked it, like Play-Doh.  Or maybe a sick pair of heels.  Whichever.  They both amount to the same.

How to Write a Novel:

Step One - Prepare to piss off everyone you know in different ways.  Maybe they're pissed because you're no longer answering your phone.  No longer doing the dishes.  No longer changing your clothes.  Trust me, it's not that that will bother them.  What they really don't understand is why now?  Why the sudden intensity?

Yesterday, you were someone's wife.  Best friend.  Confidante.  Shopping partner.  The person they sat next to in class.

Today, you are a novelist.  There is a difference.

Step Two - Be prepared to put the rest of your life on hold.  Sure there are certain things that can't wait, and taking care of the baby is one of them.  But others?  Let the dishes pile up.  Same with the laundry.  Your characters are not going to mill around in your mind forever.  Eventually, they're going to get bored and they're going to get back to doing whatever it is that they do.  Your mind is the trap, and you need to lure them, get them there, confine them for a bit, write about them, then let them go periodically throughout the day.  When they come back again, lingering, capture them again.  Write about them.  What is different about them since this morning?  Get it on paper, then feed the dogs, water the plants, go to the bathroom.  Whatever it is that you do.

Step Three - Welcome the changes.  You have a brilliant idea, obviously, or you wouldn't be reading this.  You think your idea is completely set in stone.  You have a point A and a point B, and all you need to do is fill in the details, the in-betweens.

Wrong.  Maybe.

Be prepared that things might change.  You're going to have other ideas.  Your characters may not act as well as your children do.  (Or maybe they do.  Parents?  Raise your hands.  You're the first to know that plans are for the birds.  You try to stick to a timeline, telling your friend you'll meet them for coffee and a play date at 11am.  When you roll in at 1:30pm with a lollipop stuck in your hair, a bee sting swelling up the left side of your face, a donut tire on your left rear passenger wheel, and your clothes are on backward, you realize those were the cards you were dealt.  That fiasco was what was really in store for you that day.  You roll with it.)  You now have your 1:30pm play date, an ice pack held to your face, and the play date is much more interesting now that you've conquered all these unforeseen circumstances, right?  Right.  Now write that way.

Step Four - What, you thought there was more?  There's not.  Not yet, anyway, not from me.  I'm only on chapter three.  But you?  Enjoy the creativity.  Enjoy the language.  Enjoy the brainstorming.  Enjoy it all.  If you aren't, put it down for a while.  Catch up on that laundry, those dishes.  Keep a notepad handy for those seemingly random thoughts that will hit you at the most inopportune moments (think:  bathroom-related).

It's all about the journey.

Enjoy it.

Til next time,