Almost two years ago, I sat in a workshop given by the amazing Joyce Maynard. I had just finished her book Labor Day (and loved it) and so of course my ears perked up when she started talking about the process of writing that particular novel. Afterall, I was in the middle of writing Ragtown, and wanted to know everything I could about the process that others, read as, 'great' writers go through, hoping to find some similarity, something that might ease my mind about the blood I was sweating over my keyboard. Then she hit me; a slap wouldn't have produced such a sting. Eleven days. It took her eleven days to finish the rough draft of Labor Day.
I wasn't sure I'd heard her correctly, and verified this with her later in the day. Slap, slap. Yes. Eleven days.
It took me two years to finish Ragtown. Granted, it is my first major piece of work, and there was a lot of historical research involved. But two years versus eleven days? I'm not worthy.
Every November, National Novel Writing Month, better known as NanoWriMo, comes around. It encourages writers to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days and offers peer support and encouragement along the way. I've never participated, basically because I didn't see how it could possibly be done. I know people do it, but me? Never.
A friend of mine, Leif G.S. Notae, finished his 50,000 words in three days. Then wrote an article titled "How I Wrote 50,000 Words in Three Days (And You Can Too)". I read it and thought, no, I can't.
One of my favorite authors of late is Russell Blake. I've been devouring his books and one of my favorites is King of Swords, which was followed by the prequel, Night of the Assassin. Then I read an interview with Russell---King of Swords, fourteen days. Night of the Assassin---eleven.
Granted, the novels I've mentioned above and the time it took to write them are pre-editing, but still, two weeks? Eleven days? THREE days? No way. NO (insert your favorite curse word) WAY! At least not for me.
On January 10, I pulled out a very short story I had written last year, thinking I would pretty it up and send it off to some journals. I sent it to a good friend, Darren Leo, for editing. I also mentioned the possibility that I would, one day, write a novel and use this piece as the first chapter. One of his comments really caught my eye. "I would definitely like to hear more about these characters."
I knew where I wanted to go with this piece. I thought about Joyce and Leif and Russell and all the NanoWriMo-er's, and again thought--- No. I can't.
Then on January 11, I wrote five thousand words. By the end of the day, I was starting to say, 'well, maybe I can.'
Three days and 20,000 words later, I realized: Yes, I can. And even better: Yes, I will. My mojo was working overtime, my muse was on speed dial and I knew my story. I couldn't type fast enough to get it all down.
And I did it.
Sure, it's rough, and I'll be revising and editing for several months, but I did something I had thought was out of my reach, something I thought was only reserved for really 'great' writers, something I thought I could never do. All I had to do was find my story and start typing; and like the little engine that could, start saying 'I can' instead of 'I can't'.
I recently talked to Joyce Maynard, two years after that workshop. This time, instead of feeling that sting, I found myself nodding my head when she said "all of my books have been written in short, intense bursts...But I believe in getting in the zone and staying there."
And now I get it. Story. Zone. Butt to chair. Fingers to keyboard. Yes, I can.
Yes, I did.
For more about And They Call Me Crazy, check out my 'Work in Progress' tab above.