This is the fifth place to find me on the internet. Please don't tell me I need a sixth.
Just gave myself complete freedom to fail while writing this new book. I’m not going to worry about selling it. I’ll probably go broke in the process. (Broke again, that old sad song.) But that can’t distress me. Only unfurling what’s coiled up so deeply inside me must concern me. I must write it through and get to the other side.
My heart leaps when I think about what I’ll find when I arrive there.
Been talking to some of my students about writing what’s right in front of you instead of worrying about where it’s going to be six chapters from now. If you look over your shoulder when you’re writing - particularly in the early stages of a novel - you might stop yourself from moving forward. You can’t hesitate when you’re generating pages, you can’t question yourself too much. Write the thing that’s easiest first, the thing that’s offering itself up to you, and work your way up to the hard stuff. If you can find an entry point, good lord, take it.
Now I find myself having to apply that same advice to myself. I’ve been seeing a particular house in my daydreams that I know lies in the distance somewhere in my writing. Maybe it’s this book, maybe it’s the next. It’s in the woods, in a small town, and there’s a light on. All my most memorable dreams are about living spaces: hotel rooms, bedrooms, apartments, lofts, houses. I dream of old, lived-in houses, messy houses, brand new houses that I automatically own even though I’ve never paid a dime for them. For every stage of my life there’s a house. There’s a house in Disgrace that’s small, and there’s a house in Housekeeping, too, and I’ve been thinking about those spaces a lot lately. A house is the easiest metaphor to exploit, sure, but sometimes things are easy for a reason.
This house that I’m imagining though is so far in the distance I can’t even begin to see inside it. (Though I have a little idea of who is in there.) So I’m totally letting it go. I’m just going to write the things I know I can write first, even if I have to throw them away. They’re my hurdles, and once I jump them, I get inside that house.
Topics: Being disciplined, setting your own deadlines, finishing your project.
Response: Set a goal for three months from now, reach it, set another goal for three months after that, reach that. Keep going till you are done.
There are no shortcuts, and no one can write this book but you.
Once I wrote a novel called Antiheroine. This was after I broke up with my boyfriend and went to LA and broke my ankle and was trapped in a house there for two months in a cast living on Percosets and trail mix. After I recovered I wrote this novel in about three months and the plot of it was this: A woman breaks up with her boyfriend, goes to LA, breaks her ankle and gets trapped in a house there for two months. Etc. (With a few changes.) (But basically the same deal.)
I showed the book to my agent and he said he liked it (but did not say he loved it) and that he could maybe sell it but I would need to fix the middle of it, which “sagged.” I swapped my apartment in Brooklyn for an apartment in Rome owned by a documentary filmmaker and I took the manuscript with me and I marked it all up with edits and then I decided I never wanted to look at it again, and I haven’t. I just needed to write it and get it out of my system.
A few years later, after I finished The Midds, I wrote another book which, while not loosely based on my life, had a character I identified with strongly, and I wrote this book in about five months and then I showed it to my agent and he said, “Wellll,” and then I showed it to Lauren and she said, “Wellll,” and then I thought about what I would need to do to fix it and if it were really the kind of book that would make sense to publish after The Midds and I talked about it with Lauren and a few other people and then I put it away and never looked at it again. This book was called Upstate, which I still think is a great title and someday I’m going to use it for something else. Just you wait. (I know you are not waiting.)
Now I just started a new project which feels, for similar reasons, like these other two books, which is to say autobiographical (although less so than Antiheroine and more so than Upstate, which means nothing to you since you have not read them, I know) and ready to be written fast fast fast. I was talking to Vannesa in the park today about it and I said, “There are two possibilities. One is that it’s just another book I need to throw away. Or, it’s the book I’ve been working on for years that is finally ready to be fully realized.” It could be either, this is what we discussed for few minutes. And that it would be OK for me to throw it away when it came time. Because not everything that gets written needs to be read.
But I go forward in good faith that it could be good enough or necessary or important enough to be read. I also go forward so I don’t have to sit still any longer.