Monthly Archives: September 2019

Separation Anxiety

You finally type The End. You can now take that shower you’ve been promising yourself. You can have a leisurely coffee and start on that pile of saved newspapers. You stumble to the kitchen and trip over something. You discover that you’re sharing the premises with another person. You may even take time to talk to him or her. You find this encounter to be surprisingly pleasant.

Then it hits you. The consequences. You must send your precious child out into the cold, cruel world where it will not be loved as you have loved it, where it will be met with either indifference on the one hand or will undergo severe scrutiny on the other, where it is sure to be misunderstood. You are thrown into a state of emotional chaos.

Until now your novel has been a masterpiece in your own mind, another War and Peace or Catcher in the Rye or I, Robot, whatever your genre. But will others know that it’s a work of genius? Strangers, likely recent graduates of university English departments, who know nothing about real literature.

Yet, if you want to share your work or are curious about how an editor might view it or simply just want to get the damn thing off your desk, you must send it off.

The solution is obvious. In art as in life, you have to distance yourself from your creation. But, as with so much else, this is easier said than done.

You lecture yourself – you’ve done all you can do, now it is up to the work, sink or swim. You question yourself – what’s to go wrong? You have produced an intelligent, smart, insightful, entertaining piece of writing. You’ve given it the basic tools of survival – impeccable grammar, spelling, sentence structure. You’ve controlled what you can control.

Your novel is ready to go but are you ready to let it go? Alice Munroe in one of her short stories talks about bearing the humiliation of being a writer. Bearing the pain of letting go is also a prerequisite.

Some writers solve the problem by never finishing. Every day they go to their writing place and cozily settle down into a warm bath of words, where the familiar beckons like the sirens of Odysseus to distract them from their journey.

Some dare to type ‘the end’ then put it away in a box under the bed to await posthumous fame like a Kafka. But are they being fair to their novel? Maybe it wants to take its chances. Maybe it wants to measure itself against the world. Maybe it wants to be the novel it was meant to be.

You talk to yourself and try to figure out your anxiety. You decide that this separation of you and your work is like a death, your death. Your life is written into the work, certainly your mental life, your life of the imagination, but also your ordinary existence. While you were writing your novel, for years maybe, your real life was happening. You may have birthed or fathered a child, got married, got divorced, got a promotion at your day job, experienced the death of loved ones. All the events that took place while you were involved with your novel, all the people you knew and loved, your moods, your thoughts, the state of your health, your energy on a particular day, all this is in the work in one form or another. This is what you are letting go.

It is asking a lot, to say good-bye to a part of your life that will not happen again. To say good-bye to a part of yourself that will not happen again.

In the end you let your novel go because you know you must. You can only go forward not backward, and to stay in one place is a backward move. You know you have to let go of the past in order to have a future. You want a future because you sense that another adventure, another part of yourself, maybe even a better part, is waiting for you there.

 

End of the Affair

The end of the novel. You’ve lived with the Tristan & Isoldething for years. Eaten, slept, cavorted, contrived with it. You have put everything of yourself into it – your energy, emotions, intellect. You have a closer relationship with these characters of your imagination than you do with your real-life friends and family. And then it’s over. You are caught in a great yawning silence. What to do?

Talk. Fill the vacuum with words. And so, this blog.

Every writer has an opinion about which part of writing a novel, or a poem or short story or any piece of writing for that matter, is fraught with the greatest danger. To begin, to begin, some say. Putting that first incredible word down on paper. The key that will open your trunk of wonders. It’s scary. But the saving grace here is that it doesn’t have to be the right word. At the beginning you can say anything because you can and will go back and change it. In fact, it is only when you write the end that you can go back and write the beginning that your novel demands.

But at this point you don’t have to worry about it. You can let yourself be lifted by the excitement of a beginning, full of  hope and promise, open to all possibilities.

As you continue, in art as in love, the enthusiasm fades. Uncertainty enters the scene. The possibilities dwindle. You encounter a failure of energy for the project. Certain things happen that make change, and thus freedom, difficult. You get fenced in. You might feel entirely blocked. Of course, there’s always divorce. You might decide to scrap the project. But then you’ve wasted your time. Besides, you still want to write this novel.

The middle is crucial. If your novel is going to get bogged down, this is likely where it will happen. In other people’s work, you can pinpoint the place where the writer either became bored or confused, because this is the point where you, the reader, become bored or confused.  The writer might try to keep it going by repetition, having another murder, escalating the body and blood count, introducing a startling turn – the heroine turns out to be an alien or the hero turns out to be the heroine’s brother. The whole thing can get quite silly. This is the place where a novel can become unbelievable.

What to do? Call it mid-life crisis and go out and buy a motorcycle? i.e., abandon the mess and take up with a new lover? Create chaos? Keep plodding doggedly ahead? Start a new unrelated chapter, which you will eventually have to connect, but not now? Your choice, only know that this is the place where, rather than keeping the same pace, the intensity has to be elevated. You must come up with something that will give you and your book the burst of energy to plow through.

If you can manage all this, your reward is that you have to face the end.

The first word that comes to mind for the end is Stop! Like a seasoned professional, bring the project in on time. Remember what you’re writing, maybe a contemporary human drama, maybe a thriller, probably not an epic, and follow the rules. After the plot climax, you are allowed a short denouement, then take a bow. Think of Hitchcock who, if anything, cut his endings a little too short, but better to leave the party while people are still laughing at your jokes.

In the end, there is really only one ending for your novel. The right one, the one that comes out of the book. Even writers of thrillers who spring a surprise on the last page have to follow this rule. Otherwise, the word ‘contrived’ comes into play. You might resist. No, no, you say. I can’t let that person die, he’s my favourite character. No matter, kill him off if your novel demands it. Let the bad guy win. Whatever. Be ruthless in these matters. Demonstrate the sliver  of ice that has to be at the heart of a writer.

Speaking of icy slivers, next comes publishing. But we’ll leave that for next time.