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My Novel Needs a Therapist--El Gouna 7

Everyone knows that the key to finishing a novel is to keep writing, to sitting down everyday, fingers to keyboard or pen to paper and moving forth. Don't reread it everyday, don't rewrite it everyday. As a matter of fact, once you start going the book will write itself. You will have no control on the direction of the story. That won't be easy, as you know, because sometimes you want to fight back.

When Walter Mosley gave a seminar at the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop a few years ago, he told the writers they could write a novel in a year, if they did this. Stick to it: Try to write a certain amount every day — let's say somewhere between 600 and 1,200 words. Do not labor over what's been written. Go over yesterday's work cursorily to reorient yourself, then move on. If you find at some point that you have lost the thread of your story, take a few days to reread all you have written, not with the intention of rewriting (though a little editing is unavoidable) but with the intention of refamiliarizing yourself with the entire work. Using this method, you should have a first draft of the novel in about three months. It won't be publishable. It won't be pretty. It probably won't make logical sense. But none of that matters. What you will have in front of you is the heart of the book that you wish to write.

So my expectations for writing volume was pretty high for this residency. I have nearly a month to sit down everyday and knock out five to ten pages. That would be great--by the end of the month, most of the book would be finished. At least in theory. Afterall, this is not my first draft, or second, or even third. I have taken my character through her story in different points of view, different structures and with different plot elements. The book and I know each other well. We've had a long relationship, longer than with some friends.

If i follow the book as prescribed and as I suggest to others struggling with the same thing, I need to be attentive to the whimsical paths it needs to go, how it defines itself. Because at this point of familiarity, it gets as much say in this as I do. And that's where I have a bone to pick.

We were cool at the beginning, we agreed on character and circumstance. A change in point of view came very quickly--yes, I agreed to that. We did move from New Jersey to Connecticut, but no biggie. And I wrote forward in good faith, with my research almost done, filling in the flashbacks of the war with help from Tony. Forward, forward, forward.

Red light.  Sorry, author, she said. New plot element--big one--changes all the relationships. And, sigh, it required research. And I stopped going forward because I couldn't figure out what was to come without creating the foundation for some of the new events. I went back to the beginning, gingerly. Carefully inserted what would make sense in this new configuration.

Writing starts with scaffolding, a sturdy frame, then everything attached to it fills in the design, gives life, texture and art to the construction. Little decisions are made all the time that shift this vision. But my novel keeps getting new ideas about its own body. I can't argue at this point. She definitely has the wheel here.  So back I go again to recast the beginning so when I think of moving on, I am settled with it. I get what to do, where to go.

Some people know they have changes to make, but go ahead anyway. My colleague  Lauri Kubuitsile said at dinner last night, "Oh, I wish I could just get to the end, so I could go back and fix all those little things in the beginning that are driving me mad." There is momentum and discipline. She doesn't feel the need to straighten out the crooked paths as she writes.

I don't think it's me; I think it's the novel. She's having trouble with the details of her own existence, maybe she has a complex. I want to be 3rd person, no, epistolary; I want long intense chapters; no, small ones, sections like glimpses into my character's life. She is one of those friends who drives you crazy with indecision, with seeming to change their mind every minute. If I knew where her shoulders were, I'd grab them and shake her good. 

I'm telling you, she's driving me crazy. Okay, I have fixed the beginning. It's done. Really.  

So today, I'm moving back into the body.I expect a little cooperation here, a little bit of respect. if this doesn't work out, somebody's going to need therapy. And I don't think it's me.


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courage and determination!

courage and determination! :) (my novel also needs a therapist--and also, i think it's making me need one too).