The 49th day
Forty-eight days, ninety-four thousand and one hundred and seventy words.
One novel done and the other half done.
When I started, I had about 14,000 words of a novel that I had been researching and formulating for more than a year. I didn’t feel the kind of momentum that told me the book was going to find its way to the end. I needed a kick-start.
The answer? Write another novel. Write something plot-driven, with a few key characters, fast-paced and uncomplicated and write it as fast as you can.
Seventeen days later I finished Election Day. I had a blast writing it, loved the main characters and got a kick out of the grandiosity of the conspiracy at the center of the plot.
Then it was back to the long, literary project.
Two things were different. First, I’d finished a novel in 17 days. So any doubts about being able to get to the end of this story, no matter how long and winding, should rest only in my ability to stay interested in the story, not in my ability to string together enough words to get to the end of a story itself. Second, I had a title, One Fierce Yearning, that gave the story an overarching focus that helps me understand the people I’m writing about and where they are going. And, ultimately, the errors that they make.
Over the past few days I’ve read some pieces on the web that were distinctive for their honesty and courage. That reaction would probably surprise one of the writers — the wry and witty Jonathan Penny (@blackaddler on Twitter) wrote a kind of one-stop travelogue of Tokyo. The piece was different from his hilarious naughty schoolboy remembrances, and asked for an investment of energy and focus from the reader and the writer. And he did it, weaving in and out of the crowded streets, capturing an essential creative humanity that offered a look at the ways that people live and find life.
The other writer, Becky Sain (@bsfirstpages on Twitter), knows she’s being honest, or at least trying to be, but she wouldn’t dare call what she’s doing courageous. My guess is that she’s seen a lot of true courage in her life, and doesn’t think that the equivocating and uncertainty that accompanies her writing stints qualifies as as laudatory character trait. But what you see when she writes is a woman who won’t turn away from the vein she’s trying to mine, even when she’s not sure what it is nor what it will bear, and she’s got a chorus of little voices in her head telling her to give up now, because it just isn’t good enough.
Both Becky and Jonathan’s pieces, and my 49 days of writing, made me think about the power of perseverance. You keep pushing on and you learn something. No one can tell you what is the right thing for you to learn, and no one can tell you the right way to do it. The prize is a private joy, a warm, burning flame inside, that if you let it grow will infuse you with something almost magical: sight that is bigger than you, outside of you and wholly within you. That’s the holy trinity of creating and it’s worth believing in.