Blog 13 Why The F@#k Am I Writing a Novel?
Part 2: Does My Novel Need to Die?
Subtitle of the Subtitle: What to do when your Novel Starts Talking to You
Subtitle of the subtitle of the subtitle: When is it time to go to NA? Novel’s Anonymous?
Subtitle of the subtitle of the subtitle of the subtitle: yes future blogs will be shorter…I got lost in exploring a theme…that perhaps is interesting to others…perhaps not, took a risk,…maybe I’m just psychotic from trying to finish the shitty first draft
Subtitle of the subtitle…etc…HOW TO JUST SAY NO TO WRITING A NOVEL
As you know from my last elegant post (Why the Fuck Am I Writing a Novel Part 1), I have been writing a novel for a very long time.
To quote myself,
“I’m beginning to think that finishing it [my novel] is not important.
My novel is alive. I think it is more alive than I am, mostly. Certainly she holds my more talented, truthful, playful, conscious, emotional and humorous self. She’s the reason I’m alive. Indubitably she is the vehicle for my being to express and come to terms with life in its many facets, and she is the gloves I don to experience it, doing most of my touching of others through words of many kinds. Raw experience I find mostly difficult in one way or the other, but the soft caress of hands covered by words, softens and makes palatable this human life I have inherited from the cosmos that is my Mother.
I think the way it carries me along in life is very important and that its very existence allows me to exist. I am not alone in this sentiment. The Maya believe that language creates and holds existence. At the heart of their cosmos (in my over-simplified understanding) is basically a tree with layers and levels made of stories. The world is the spiritual realm speaking to us and humans talking back in return, call and response, call and response.”
Despite this I still wake up in the morning screaming, “Oh my god I’m writing a novel!”
And the Mayan tree of life with its big black Jaguar sitting in the top responds, “Congratulations!”
Scribes were holy people in many cultures. When you were finished being a scribe, you were finished being alive—like the U.S. Supreme Court, it was not a job you retired from.
So why the fuck am I writing a novel?
Or more precisely, why exactly am I trying to finish it? Despite everything I just said, I notice that I want to complete it. Which brings up other questions: Why do I think I can write one to begin with? Why would I want to? It’s a lot of drama. Time alone. Figuring out hair brained plots and then realizing: this isn’t fucking believable, although life itself isn’t fucking believable, but somehow that element doesn’t work on the page. In a novel, it has to seem believable, even if it isn’t. What a strange set of rules. In life we live in the unfathomable all the time without batting an eyelid.
The compulsion speaks, however, is ruling my life. The obsessive thoughts: I’m going to finish it; I’m going to finish it; get out of my way; I’m going to finish it…..says the maniacal voice inside. That’s what writer’s do. If you don’t finish you are finished!
WRITER FRIEND TRIES TO SAVE THE DAY
Another writer friend made a suggestion, even though he hasn’t read any chapters for ten years or longer. That’s because I hardly ever let anyone see the damn thing anymore because “it’s in process,” and hearing feedback on chapters that are not connected to an ending, is useless now and I know it. No writing groups, no editors, comments not welcome unless I blog part of it, or give it to someone to read, or read it at an open-mic. It’s just me and the novel, Her and me, alone in the world, most of the time. It’s like I know this stage is just about working on it step by step. No glory. It’s not anything anyone else can do for me. Also obsessive. Also compulsive. The isolation. Why?
HOW A NOVEL IS LIKE BEING AROUND YOUR MOTHER
I was that way with my mother too. I didn’t want to share her death with anyone after it happened. Well I wanted to share her death process with other people for a long time, once I realized what was happening, but events conspired differently. I did not get what I wanted or needed and she didn’t either. Why, given my family dynamic, did I ever hope it would be different?
The family and beings and people that I had hoped would be there for both of us in her waning days, did not appear. They did not appear. The people we needed to have, for her sake and mine, were not there. It was our fault and it wasn’t. Neither of us were great shakes at being social and having friends.
We weathered it alone.
Now she’s gone and I’m alone.
I refused to go to grief counseling. I refused to do a funeral (I’m not callous; she abdicated the town she lived in for thirty years and I was afraid to do one there). I refused to make an announcement or write an obit. Most of the time I wouldn’t talk about it at all. In my defense, I was in shock the subsequent year despite the fact that I had paved the way for her to die in peace, which she did, as far as I could tell.
“We were alone,” says that part of myself, during the most important parts of anything…what could I possible say to the rest of you now? What could I possibly say? Talk about it? Are you insane? What can be said?
Our relationship was ours.
No one else deserves to know. If I want you to know I’ll tell you, but it won’t be a conversation. I am not someone who wants a response. Not when it concerns my mother. I have given that up for sure.
IF I WAS A PSYCHOLOGIST
If I was a psychologist—Oh shit looky there, I am one!—I’d say to myself “wow you are having the same relationship with your novel, perhaps, as you did with your mother-”
And I would say, “THIS IS WHY I DON’T TALK TO MYSELF! I END UP SAYING THIS KIND OF SHIT!”
Okay, fine Dr. Self. What I am saying is that writing my novel, like my mother’s death, is not a group experience with a lot of supportive connections.
Sometimes that’s a bad thing, not having the connections you need to finish a project or get a project published, and I’m beginning to suspect that’s what I’m afraid of…if I finish my novel what if I’m still bad at connecting to the people who would like it and help me publish it?
What if I write a novel and I’m still me at the end of it?
What if everything really does come down to social connections and politics and, as you might have guessed, my talents don’t lie (or is it lay? LOL) in that particular area?
When they were handing out social graces I was under the bed with my cat reading a novel about a cat who went to Mars on a spaceship. In my defense, I was a child at the time.
Maybe it’s very hard to finish the novel because of my lack of deftness in making the right connections with the right people and maintaining them for longer than it takes me to say “Wednesday.”
The shy little girl who doesn’t know what to say to people still exists and since she’s really a charming, smart, funny little creature—my mom loved her dearly—I’m not going to tell her to leave. She’s the source of my writing, really, the childlike imagination and the desire to trip down the path of the fairy story and see what happens. She’s the writer, really, and telling her to leave would be sacrilege. I would never ever do that.
My shy, little inside girl holds the Novel in her small hands…and that will be true no matter what happens to it or the other things I write. It’s important to protect her, under a more caustic adult person, who does more sensible things like write a humor blog and pretends I’m a Coyote with a doctorate. The doctorate is not pretend. No one could make that shit up.
Back to the Story about the Novel
Anyway the writer friend said, “What is your guiding image or structure for your masterpiece?” He didn’t say ‘masterpiece,’ but I wished he would have because I would have loved the sarcasm.
“Structure?” I screamed. “Image?” I howled. Who fucking needs this crap! All I want to do is finish it…finish it…finish it, finishit, finishit, finishit…it echoed through all the conversations we ever had, past present and future.
“Okay,” he said, “I see you need to gallop furiously towards the end.”
I should be grateful he visited me at all. Visiting me is a little like having a sleep over with a hermit who bites. You come into the sacred cave and there’s no place for company to sit, and the hermit won’t listen to anything the visitor says unless it’s something she came up with. It’s also true that the hermit knows she’s become an image, over time, for the visitor to play with, and so at least half of every conversation they have is the Visitor toying, and playing with his Image of Her, and not the real Coyote-Hermit-Woman (getting all the metaphors at once creates a confusing goulash of possible meanings). In his defense, he would, and did, point out that there is no reality, only image, which was fortunate for him. It’s always good to have some completely imaginary justification propping up one’s brute existence.
Laughing Coyote argued for reality, which was completely hilarious. The woman with a Ph.D. in phenomenology, which argues that there is only perception, takes the side of Reality. However she would argue, having the other part of her degree in existentialism, that life is about taking a stand and picking a perception and sticking with it. That’s what co-creation of reality means. Committing to a perspective no matter how stupid it is, which guides action without the person becoming a narrow minded zealot.
She won the argument largely because she used fewer words than the Visitor. She could make her point by saying: this is this, while he had to tell three tales full of metaphor, metaphysics, history, culture to make his argument that what we imagine to be is already real. I told him the only way I got a truck is by going and getting it after I’d imagined it.
We were both kind of right.
I say I won the argument because I’m the one writing this history. When he writes his, he can be right.
WHY THE FUCK AM I TRYING TO FINISH A NOVEL?
Anyway back to waking up screaming, “OH MY GOD I’M WRITING A NOVEL!”
Three-quarters of the way through this mother-fucker I realize, the novel is dead and I’m sort of hanging on for dear life, like a rider out of the saddle on a galloping black horse…if I can just get to the end if I can just get to the end then I will know what to do. It will have finished and I will know what it is and what to do with it. I will know what to do with the fact that the main confrontation between two of the characters rings false and that I think I’ve discovered that I suck at writing real characters and I might not care enough about it to learn how. After all I’m going to die soon, being a human being. Maybe I’d better go with disseminating something I’m already good at: not writing believable characters, more like caricatures and using my vocabulary to be playful. Do I really need to do the thing I thought I wanted to do? Needed to do?
THE DANGERS OF ADDICTION
Maybe I am powerless over my Novel. Maybe I really need to let go. Maybe I need NA: Novels Anonymous.
One for me and one for my novel. Two different support groups. Maybe my Novel needs to let go of me, as much I possibly do of it? Are we in some kind of sick co-dependent relationship?
Is there anyone out there who is a doctor of literature who could diagnose and treat me?
I’m scared. I’m totally scared now. What if these new thoughts are true? What if I’m wasting my time?
But I think I may have reached the end of what I thought it was. Does it now die? Do I throw it away? Do I restructure it in a way that can better support me? What does that mean? I’m on Novel Life Support? Who is the doctor and who is the patient? Or is the Novel on Life-Support and is draining energy out of my being that could better be used elsewhere?
Maybe I just wrote this thing so I could discover what I was good at and what I wanted to write and what I don’t.
STALKING AVALON: THE NOVEL
The Novel rising out of the mists of Avalon. (The novel is called: Stalking Avalon, which, if you’ve read Carlos Castaneda, and know what stalking means, might explain why it’s such a bitch to finish. Avalon is a mythical place in the British Isles. If the Maya are right, and words generate being, the title of the book might be preventing its incarnation. I’m “stalking” an imaginary place, which doubles the trickery involved.
For Castaneda, “stalking” means you do things that look completely ridiculous and unrelated in order to outwit your opponent. (In other words, you can’t let your Novel know you are working on it.) You can’t look like you are hunting. At best you look like a fool who is “not-hunting,” doing exactly what won’t work in order to get the task accomplished, which pretty much sounds like my existential strategic resume. Is it working? Am I actually really accomplishing a lot by my circuitous and often ridiculous way of not-writing, writing, and finishing by not-finishing? And how will I tell if I’m done if I have fooled myself as well, which is sometimes necessary to keep it all a secret?
Maybe I can get my Writer Friend to spy on me and let me know when I’m finished.
POWER IN NAMING
So perhaps I should rename the damn thing: Book That Gets Finished and Published and Makes Great Money.
[My accountant told me to add the last part].
PEOPLE DIE ON MY BIRTHDAY
Let me make my point another way.
People have a habit of dying on my birthday. My grandma died on my birthday when I was fifteen, my mother recently died the day before my birthday (but I still noticed) and this year, our dog died on my birthday (not really my dog, my roommate’s dog, but I knew the dog for four years and loved her).
What the hell? Why does shit die on my birthday?
It’s close to my birthday, which is why I’m saying it.
It could be the old form dies and a new one begins.
Perhaps my Novel should die this year. I could just go ahead and say it did, on my birthday, so I can commemorate it’s not-existing, not that it ever really did. Maybe I should let it die now and not wait for it to die from lack of recognition, being published or lack of being a good novel, after I finish it.
One thing Laughing Coyote knows for sure: Novels, like most stories, are not what they appear to be.
LETTING GO OF A NOVEL CAN BE HEALTHY
Perhaps letting go of my novel can be like letting go of my mom. That Novel has carried me around and maybe I just don’t need Her to do that anymore.
Let me illustrate:
The past 15 years Stalking Avalon has become the raison d’etre for everything.
Who are you?
I’m writing a novel.
Why aren’t you tenured in psychology?
I’m writing a novel.
Why are you a financial disaster waiting for FEMA to get its shit together and pull you out of the Superdome?
I’m writing a novel.
Why aren’t you in a relationship.
I’m writing a novel.
Why don’t you clean your fucking house?
A, in my defense, my house is not that dirty. B) I’m writing a novel.
Why don’t you call me back?
I’m writing a novel
Why do you have adrenal fatigue and cervical vertigo?
The stress of writing a novel when the world does not give a shit because our society could care less about the economic plight of artists and poet-writers.
Why don’t you work full time?
I do. I work part-time full-time like most Americans, but initially it was because….oh you know the reason.
So tell me Laughing Coyote: are you happy or unhappy?
I’m writing a novel. (See it’s my automatic default response to everything. Did you take your vitamins? I’m writing a novel. Good thing I’m not married with kids. Honey what happened to our son? I’m writing a novel)
No seriously Laughing Coyote, are you happy or unhappy? (Apparently now I’m being interviewed by someone. It is interesting what happens in StoryBlog-World).
So are you a happy person or an unhappy person?
What part of the day? Which day?
No, in general.
There is no ‘in general,’ there is only now. (See Friend Who Visited Me When No one Else Dared, I did listen to one thing HE said.)
If you had to characterized yourself in general?
Me or Laughing Coyote?
Whoever…(the person interviewing me is getting exasperated and just wanting to move on)
Oh definitely unhappy. For sure. In general. But that’s only as good as saying that something that doesn’t really exist usually has the following characteristics.
(This is why people have trouble getting to know me. I talk like this most of the time. However, if you are my friend, you do know me, and have survived and perhaps even like my Coyote like, trickster presence. Bluebird, Bear, Shaman Mentor, Monkey Girl, Mary Ingalls (inside joke) and the Writer-Friend/Visitor (who is in dire need of a nickname, in the meantime I will just refer to him as Coleosuarus, which is a bastardized and misspelled name of a New Mexican state Dinosaur…or maybe I should call him Dino…I think that just might work…). Dino is a writer too and he actually finishes things!
So says the interviewer of People who aren’t famous or all that talented but should be Magazine
Why are you, or whoever you think you are, unhappy?
Me: You want me to say it’s because I’m writing a novel. I’ll go you one better, I’d say it’s because I’m a writer.
Correspondent: No, I don’t believe that. I’ve read your work on your blog, heard you at open mic, and seen you when you are writing. I don’t think it’s that.
Me: Okay, I’d say I’m unhappy because I don’t have enough time to write and finish my novel. It’s going to take forever and it’s already taken forever, so I think forever and forever make at least one infinity….
Correspondent: so you are unhappy because you are writing a novel?
Correspondent: you are unhappy because you are writing a novel.
Me: Does sound kind of logical doesn’t it.
Correspondent: What if you didn’t write a novel?
Would I be happy if I didn’t write a novel? Maybe the insistence on doing something is what is actually derailing me. Surely I would have been done by now if I was ever going to be done with it, so what is really going on here?
The other voice says—not the interviewer, the one in my head that talks all the time—but what about finding out what happens?
What happens? Where?
In the novel? What happens? Aren’t you curious?
Yeah, I’d say 15 years’ worth of curious.
And says the Novel…
oh I get it now…the Novel is actually talking to me
The Novel then says this: Aren’t you curious about what might happen to you if you finish me? Maybe I will change your life, if you complete me.
That’s it for now,
The Laughing Coyote
P.S. stay tuned for more developments in the exciting world of would-be novelists! Will she give the novel up? Will she revise? Will she continue along the path she carved out knowing that currently she is mucking through the middle part of the Amazingly Shitty First Draft, which is where most novelists run into a very Road Runner like Instant Hole (which is really more like Instant Swamp) and are never seen again?
Wow this is at least as exciting as the Super Bowl!
next up: Trying to find my Like Button