where the writers are
Starting a Novel and Taking a Trip

Day One. All day, I knew it: this was the day I would start. Angie took the boys downstairs when they woke up at about 6:15, and I got to sleep in until  a.m. As I was coming to consciousness, I was thinking my way through Aristotle’s incline vis-a-vis my new novel. I have been doing this over the past few days, never getting further than the first turning point, but this morning I got to the midpoint before I crawled out of bed.

Then we were packing and getting ready to come up to Sonoma, plus I had to post podcasts and technique boosts and jump starts to my class of folks who were also starting their novels today. My mother came over to play with the boys while Angie and I got things done, because it takes us about a million years to pack for one of these three day trips. We always bring too much of everything except the things we need. It takes us weeks to unpack. In fact, I had to unpack from our last Sonoma jaunt in order to empty a suitcase for this trip.

This is relevant to the craft issues that are the titled focus of this blog. Two journeys were planned to begin today, and my morning was preoccupied in packing for them, with precisely the same set of problems: planning a trip/ novel and actually making one are two very different projects, and from the standpoint of one, it is difficult to remember what one actually needs when immersed in the other.

It rained today. The boys barely know what rain is, we’ve had so little of it in their lifetimes. But today was a real California storm, and we drove through grey skies, over swaths of water, across the Richmond bridge. By the time we got to Sebastopol, I had to let Angie drive because I was so tired. Once she was at the wheel, I kept falling asleep–into deep, sudden, real sleep–only to be jolted awake by a sudden stop or the disturbances of the rain.

And then we were here, the house full of the smell of bread pudding, the boys elated to see Grandpa and Nana. (Grandpa reassuring Angie about Prop. 8: “Even if it doesn’t pass this time, it’s going to happen. It takes a while for us old codgers to catch up.”) Angie and I got to go back into town, to Cooperfield’s bookstore, on our own, and suddenly I was full of energy, and so many amazing books were being sold at double-discounts that my arms, normally weighted with babies, were weighted with books. That feeling kept stealing over me: today is the day. I am starting this book today.

I didn’t like the book anymore, abstractly in my head, but I knew well enough to know that it would feel differently coming out on the screen, on the electronic page, that it would surprise me and find room for anything that mattered to me. I felt in love with the millions of books in the world.

It was cold outside and so warm when we got back to the house, and now tangy orange flavors and salty tamari scents layered into the bread pudding smells from earlier, and the boys looked up, happy to see us but not unhappy that we’d been gone, and I knew: today is the day I will start.

I kept checking my email to see if any of my students had posted a call for help or anything else. We fed the boys. They are saying so many words now. Charlie says, “bear” as if it were two syllables but something like “be-er.” And then “more” rhymes with “be-er.” “Me-re,” he says, frequently. “Mere.”

“Writing is mere,” Annie Dillard says in her wonderful book The Writing Life. The full quote is something like, “Literature is merely literature; writing is mere.”

I wrestled the boys into clean diapers and fuzzy pajamas, and they said nighty-night to the dogs and to Grandpa and Nana, and we sang them their three songs, plus we sang them Tumble Bumble since we didn’t read to them like we usually do.

Leo had a hard time falling asleep. He kept pointing to the fire in the wood-burning stove, and when Grandpa came out looking for his glasses, Leo jumped up, filled with ecstacy at the reappearance of this man he adores, and all-in-all, he was not pleased with settling down for bed, but finally–and really, in not so long a time–he was asleep. It took a little cuddling with Mama on one side and Mommy on the other to do the trick. And while he was struggling and I was shushing him and nursing him and petting him, I was thinking about the opening scene of the novel I was about to begin, and about what I’d worked out when I’d finally typed out my whole Aristotle’s incline that afternoon before the bookstore trip.

Then Leo was asleep and I could get up again and finally have my chocolate chip bread pudding with bourbon sauce, and tell myself that when I reached 1,000 words, I could have seconds, and so I began. At 820 words, I was still thinking about the bread pudding, which in fact had made its way into the novel, but then I was at 1352 before I actually got up to carve myself a piece, and now I am done with my first 1946 words. I need to do 1667/ day to achieve the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 in November, but more like 2000 - 2500 to achieve my own goal . . . We’ll see.

Right now, I am pleased. I am sitting at the marble countertop on the island in the middle of the kitchen/ living room. The boys are asleep to my right. The fire behind me is dying out. Angie is typing a few feet to my left.

There are people who rail against amateurs writing novels and claiming to be writers and thinking they know something about the writing life–people who hate NaNoWriMo and everything it stands for. But I think we are all amateurs when we face the blank page at the start of a new project. None of us is certain that anyone else will care about what we’ve written, much less need it in any way. There is the root of love hidden in that word, and we all do well to remember the excitement of being a beginner–whether for this lifetime or this novel or this day.

[Want more? Life, writing, and writing courses: http://www.elizabethstark.com or buddy up with me at NaNoWriMo: starklysaid or follow me on Twitter: Elizabeth_Stark ]