February 27, 2004

A 74mph fairy tale


Did I ever tell you I wrote a novel? Well, I did. I can say that, and it would be true.

I highly recommend writing a novel, or completing any huge, unfathomable work of art, because it will cure you of the notion that "you don't have it in you." During the two years when I was writing, I kept on telling myself "just think about how good it will feel to write the last sentence," and I was right it was fabulous, and we all went to Hell (the bar) in Chapel Hill and drank lots of tequila.

My novel was called "Quickening," and it was the story of two college-aged kids who have to drive across country in five days to stop a childhood sweetheart from marrying the wrong guy. Then again, it's more of a latent homo-erotic love story between the two guys, or perhaps it's just about getting even with your childhood. The thing is this: ultimately, you may not know what your novel is about. They take so long to write that you run the very real risk of not believing any of the things you believed when you started.

The same thing happens in the 2nd violin section when you are playing a symphony. In a pop song, you know how long the verse will be, and you can anticipate the chorus: but in a symphony, you start drifting away from the coast, and you'll no longer have the breadth of perspective to keep it all in view. It lasts long enough that you will forget precisely how far you've come, and how far you have to go.

The same thing will happen to you as you write your first novel. You will reach a point where you are so unsure of yourself, so unsure of your character, so unsure of your plot, that you will contemplate doing anything other than finishing. You will not see the shore where you set sail, nor will you see the land of your destination. Whether or not you finish will determine whether you are a Writer or merely a writer.

My novel kinda sucks. At least it might; I haven't read it since I finished writing the damn thing in 1997. I couldn't sell it to any of my agents, because it was in a weird format that I thought was interesting (but everyone else found bizarre). My dear sweet Annie said she cried when she got to the end, and I've always assumed it was because she liked it, not because it was painful. Ultimately, my buddy Chris P. and I turned it into a screenplay, and it made a fair amount of noise among some players in Hollywood circa 1998. As fate would have it, our meeting with Dreamworks occurred the same day they bought the movie "Road Trip," and apparently that was enough college road movies for one decade.

And so it sits, on a bookshelf upstate. If someone had told me back in the mid-90s that it would come to this fate, I would have been furious and suicidal. Now it serves as a fabulous reminder that I could have panicked and jumped ship, but instead I was able to keep rowing long enough to see land.


Posted by irw at February 27, 2004 11:07 PM
Posted by: Pete Stanley at February 29, 2004 12:18 AM

It's on more than one bookshelf.

Posted by: Annie at March 1, 2004 8:53 AM

You got that right brotha! I still have my copy--with its hot pink title page intact.

Posted by: Kmeelyon at March 2, 2004 4:07 PM

Somehow this reminds me of the recent pain I encountered a couple of months ago. This past year, I decided to participate in Nanowrimo http://www.nanowrimo.org/index.php. Nevermind that I didn't complete my novel. I made a nice start on Liner Notes, which was a whole lot of musings on the music in my life and the stories that revolved around the soundtrack of my life. Then, two months ago, I was returning to SF from Miami, Florida, where I'd been visiting my mother. I decided to browse in an airport bookstore and look for some reading material for the plane. I glanced at the bookshelf and had to do a double-take. Right there on the top shelf was a book called Liner notes. It was a novel about a woman who takes a cross country trip to visit a friend and writes about her musical memories. I suddenly felt weak and a bit sick to my stomach. And I haven't quite recovered, actually.

Posted by: Ian at March 4, 2004 11:01 PM

Hey, how was Nanowrimo? I like structured ideas like that.

I have many stories of people getting rich off ideas I had 5 years before. It makes you feel just awful. Nothing quite describes it.

Posted by: Kmeelyon at March 5, 2004 6:28 PM

Nanowrimo didn't quite take off for me this year. I had just been fired (for the first time ever!) from my post-doc position and thought I'd get even with the bastards by writing my Great Novel. Turns out I felt too depressed and unfocused to really make much progress. So, it never quite got off the ground. (The nice thing is that just today, I was offered a post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University. Whoop! Take that, lame-o postdoc supervisor! Vengeance is mine!) Anyway, I also love the whole structured writing idea and the fact that you can have a whole community of people to whine with about the experience. I want to follow through with it sometime soon. I have focused my recent efforts on publishing my dissertation, and now that I've finished that, I'm ready for something creative. But having your idea(s) scooped sucks some serious ass.

Posted by: Ian at March 5, 2004 11:50 PM

Congrats on the Stanford gig! That kicks an unreal amount of ass.

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