Thursday, September 04, 2014

Fall Pessimism

It's early autumn, and the dorm at the independent school, Northfield Mount Hermon, where I live and work will soon fill (or refill, it seems, after many years in this business) with 60 teenagers once again. My classes are designed and – hopefully – ready to go (including a September school visit from Type M's Frankie Bailey!), and I am off and running for another nine-month stretch of teaching and writing.

In my academic life, fall breeds optimism; in my writing life, fall spawns distrust.

Last year, I began my novel in August and struggled to keep all the balls in the air. And when push came to shove, I let the ball that doesn't pay the bills hit the floor: I missed my May 1 book deadline (and, subsequently, had to write 120 pages in 12 days in June to finish). I am determined not to allow that to happen again.

Stephen King, in On Writing, says you should try to finish a book in three months. That's a tall order for most people not named King or McBain. There's another mantra that speaks to writing pace, and I'm sure you've heard it: If you write two pages every day for a year, you'll have a novel.

Or 730 pages of junk.

As you probably realize (and if you've tried it, you most certainly realize it) writing a novel is never as easy as a mathematical formula. Silly items, you know, the little things, like plot problems or foolish characters who don't turn out to be who you thought they'd be, arise. And soon, if you're anything like me, you're spending two hours a day rereading what you wrote two months ago to see where those bastard characters led you astray. And your two-pages-a-day goal goes out the window. Hell, you're thrilled if you get one solid paragraph (in two hours) that moves the book forward.

So as the hopeful, beaming teenagers return to campus for another year, and I'm 5,000 words into my new book (standing at the edge of the forest, peering through the trees to the lovely field at the other side, not yet seeing where the woods grow Howthore-ian dark), as optimistic as I try to be, I know, looming just out of sight, (maybe hiding in one of the now-empty campus corridors), stands one of those bastards I will create (and maybe haven't even thought of yet) who is planning a plot surprise that will leave me scratching my head and rewriting for weeks.

1 comment:

Sybil Johnson said...

I can't even imagine finishing a book in 3 months. Seems way too short. Not enough thinking time.