Sometimes my students are amazed to hear that I have at five novels--novels I worked on for months and months, obsessed about, ran through workshops, critique groups--hanging in my C drive. And I suppose that if you'd told me when I was writing them that no one would actually ever print these novels, I would have been stunned.
Actually, I should say I have four novels hanging in my C drive. I took one novel out last summer, dusted it off, gave it a real talking to, and sent it back into the world a couple months or so ago, my agent taking it on a spin. We will see if it comes back to the barn.
But the rest is true: we have the story of the woman breaking into her various psychic parts and driving around with her "selves" in the back seat; the story of two gay teenaged boys in the suburbs; the story of a girl in 1977 facing her sexuality and her father's death; the story of one really bad Thanksgiving meal.
Then--as many novelists I know--I have the stories that reached about page 75 and then stopped or were stopped. These half-baked, not-quite-done ideas just could achieve liftoff. For a few weeks, I thought each was brilliant. I was in LOVE with these ideas, and then not. There they hang in the C drive as well.
But the thing is this: they aren't wasted. With each novel, with the completion of each story, I learned something about writing. For instance, the novel currently making the rounds was the first novel I wrote after having completed Her Daughter's Eyes, my first. When I started my first novel, I had made the leap suddenly from short story writer to novelist. And truth be told, I had no idea how to write chapters. How did people do it? I was completely unclear on when to stop the scene, the action, so when I did in my first novel, I just put in some big white space and a symbol. That story was separated into three sections, and my editor--a long time editor at Penguin/NAL--seemed to think it was dandy. But then, was that the way to write a novel? Every novel? When I started writing a novel again, I began to try to think in chapters, to figure out the ac of a scene and related scenes. Ahh, yes. A chapter.
The story of the Thanksgiving dinner taught me a great deal about POV as I had 6--yes, 6--points-of-view. Clearly, that may have been an issue with this tale. But I worked POV--as I worked it in the story about the two gay teenagers.
Imagery, setting, plot, structure, all things that really, we need to teach ourselves. We can read, we can be critiqued, edited, line-edited--but we need to learn how to do this ourselves, with our own fingers and minds as we write. We have to see how it all works together. Yes, we can understand plot and tension, but we have to know where and when to employ both. That doesn't come from reading. That comes from writing.
So I thank my learning experiences, those stories I loved and almost loved. Sometimes, I open the files, look in, remember my mind as I was writing, remember my excitement with the ideas, the characters, and know that nothing was wasted. Not one second. I don't mourn the fact that they didn't find readers other than a select and not so pleased few. I know that these novels have taken me places I could not have gone without them.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org