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Ed. note: As many of us have internalized the old academic calendar, it occurred to me to ask a few of our faculty why/how/when/who/and what could get us to write our projects this “year.” William Haywood Henderson (Augusta Locke, The Rest of the Earth, and Native) promised to pull out the pompoms and his old cheerleading outfit from high school and do just that for novelists. Here’s what he sent me:
You’re Finally Going to Start (and Finish) Your Novel, Right? Sure You Are! (Go, Team!)
It’s time to write (and finish!) that novel you’ve been noodling with for…well…for a while, because if you don’t write it now then when the heck were you planning on writing it? Maybe you have a hundred random pages written in a notebook, and you’ve sort of lost track of your characters (they were here a minute ago, but now they’ve wandered over there and they seem to have joined the navy). Maybe you have an idea that percolates along but never really boils over onto the page. Maybe you even have a full draft that needs some time and attention to make it amazing (and ready for publication). All these maybes are part of the process, so don’t let them frustrate you. Your subconscious is constantly working on your novel, whether you know it or not. Your seemingly disjointed pages in that notebook are the necessary preparatory work for plot and character, demonstrating where your novel could or should go and (equally important) where it probably shouldn’t go. (Believe me: I have stacks of notebooks full of shouldn’t.) And just because you’ve finished a draft of your novel doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re done. (Believe me, again: I was pretty much finished with my current novel when I realized that the point of view was wrong…so, back to the beginning for a recasting of the whole shebang.)
I’ve been novelizing fairly constantly for about twenty years, and along the way I’ve learned a few things about (1) what I need to know, (2) what I’ll never know, and (3) what I hope I’ll never find out about the whole gigantic process of writing a novel. Here you go:
1) The most basic thing I need to know has turned out to be “why does this story matter to me?” Attached to that question is the vital “why are my characters interested in acting out my personal obsessions?” Not all that surprisingly, you need to care about the story you’re writing, especially because a novel can take a hundred years to write, give or take ninety-six years, and you have to remain engaged throughout the whole process.
2) I realize that I’ll never know exactly why I write the novels I write or where exactly the characters come from, and I’ll never fully understand why certain ideas and images obsess me and repeat in my novels—and that’s okay, because part of the beauty of the writing process is how your own ideas can surprise you when you read them on the page. “Where the hell did that come from?” It came from your brain, and chances are you know very little about what goes on in your brain, but letting your brain write your novel might teach you a few things about it (your brain, that is).
3) And I hope I’ll never find out exactly how many hours I actually spend writing a novel. Trust me: You don’t want to know, not if you’re interested in how much money you make per hour. But you don’t write a novel for the money, or, more accurately, I don’t write a novel for the money (though I’m not averse). I write novels because they’re huge and fun and complicated, and I write because I like being surprised by what ends up on the page.
So, don’t be intimidated. Don’t wait. Take the leap and write that darn novel! It’s not going to write itself. And you don’t want to look back in five or ten years and say, “If only I’d written that novel. I could’ve been a contender.”
Another thing we asked Hendy to do was design a series of 4-week workshops for people who want to write a novel but don’t know how to get started. Click here to see his new novel bootcamp series: putting it together. And hope to see you all at the Back-to-School Pizza Party on Sunday, Aug. 14, 4:30 to 7 PM at the new Lighthouse grotto (1515 Race St.). Thanks Bill and everyone!