I just hit 5,000 words on my novel! I’m taking this story slower than a NaNoWriMo novel, but I am still getting places! It is helping right now to say that I’ll write something every day, but not set a particular word count goal. So far my best day I hit 1,000 words, and my worst was around 40, but the point is that I am back to putting something more toward this story every day. I’ve got one chapter down, and working on Chapter 2, and it makes me very happy.
A secondary milestone is that, although this will technically be my third novel, it is the first I am doing deliberately, without any organized external motivation. Basically, my first novel was with NaNo, and it was awful. My second novel I wrote on my own, but it kind of became a novel by accident. I started writing a story with the “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way” mentality, and several months later, I caught on that this was getting into novel territory. For a good portion of the time, I’d sit down to write wondering if today was the day the story ended. This is the first time that I’ve sat down with the thought, “I’m going to take these characters and the things I know about them and work on making their stories into a novel.” And here I am with a satisfying chunk of words, and I have a general idea of what might happen next. So far, things are good.
In the spirit of honesty, I read this a few months ago, so it’s more of a “What I Read.” But it is still worth talking about, so the current books can wait a moment.
I don’t read a lot of memoir; I’m primarily a fiction girl. But I also pride myself on being open to anything that looks good, and the premise of Paul Guest’s story was dramatic, to say the least. When he was twelve, he crashed his bike, breaking his neck and irreversibly paralyzing him. The memoir follows his life from that event through college, and a little after, and the more I read, the more I liked and admired the man.
The remarkable thing about this book is that Guest manages to be both honest & serious without falling into the trap of self-pity. There’s a moment, for example, where he talks about an episode of rehab in the hospital. The paralyzed patients had to watch a series of videos explaining how their injuries would affect different systems of the body, and they had come to the inevitable question of sex. For 12-year-old boy, this would have been awkward in the best-case scenario, and there is something almost cruel in making a child watch what amounted to low-grade porn (the video featured a couple demonstrating sex acts that could potentially be an option for paraplegics). Guest acknowledges the futility of the video for most of the audience and the absurd humor of the situation, and strikes an excellent emotional balance. Later, when he wrote about the end of his first adult relationship, I was impressed to see that he didn’t even begin to pull the “she left me because I was a cripple” card. He admits frankly that he was inexperienced at relationships, and tended to say the wrong thing. The reader understands that the injury can easily explain why he may have had less relationship experience than his peers, but you’re left to draw your own conclusions, which is mature, and thoughtful. It makes the book an open communication about life as a paraplegic, rather than a sermon.
All in all, One More Theory About Happiness seeks to show Guest’s life as a whole: the injury, his discovery and pursuit of writing, the process of developing relationships, friendships, independence (yes, even that). It’s thoughtful and funny and sad and refreshing, and if he ever comes to Baltimore for a while, I hope Paul Guest would want to be friends with me.
I read writing magazines sometimes, and one of the articles that comes up perenially is the “How to Quit Making Excuses and Actually Write” feature. It seems that I am not the only writer who can be pretty bad at getting down to writing. There are plenty of logical reasons. I work an overloaded week, plus grad school. Writing is not always (or even often) fun enough to entice me to the computer. I am still learning what works for me as a writer in terms of scheduling (early or late? write a set number of words/pages a day or whenever I feel inspired, regardless of word count?), and I’ve been noticing that even if I find a good rhythm, what works one day usually changes by the next week or so. Hitting a writing rhythm is more like swimming in an ocean than a pool, and it can be exhausting to locate the current, never mind work once I’m in it.
Here’s the thing, though. I always make time for my boyfriend, even during finals week. I never go a day without reading for pleasure, even if it’s just a few pages, even if I have to sacrifice half an hour of sleep to get it. If I want to make cookies for one group of friends and catch up with another friend, I’ll put her on speaker phone so I can talk and knead dough simultaneously. I insist on having time for the people and activities that are most important to me. It’s fairly clear to me that what I must do if I want to start getting this writing thing right is treat it as if I want it as badly as I want to read, or say good night to Andrew, even if that is not the case.
My plan over Christmas break is to write the lion’s portion of a novel. I’d like a minimum of 40,000 words done by the time I go back to class on January 24th. Yesterday, according to the schedule I’d drawn out for myself, I should have hit 2500 words. I’m at about 600. I’d like to hit 25,000 by the end of this year. I’m going to try and post here every week or so on how it’s going (one of my plans is to have a more active presence on my little site, too), and we’ll see if I can beat this “no time” myth. Wish me luck!