I have written three novels; each one took several years. But my fourth novel has been gestating for eight years. My back aches from the weight of it, and I wonder if it will ever be born.
I’ve started my story three times. In my first attempt, a middle-aged woman finds her mother’s high school yearbook and tries to imagine her deceased mother’s life, while her mother argues with her from beyond the grave.
The second version is the life of that same middle-aged woman. I’m confident that this third version, the story of her parents’ long marriage, is the right one, but I’ve put it down to revise other books, write the blog, travel, have surgery, adopt a granddaughter. I’ve written close to 380 pages, and I’ve only gotten the defenseless pair to their third and last pregnancy.
In my long dalliance with these people, I’ve had to do a lot of research, which is really fun. The most fun was learning about life on the home front during the Second World War. I found a Rosie the Riveter website with first person narratives by the women, now in their eighties, who helped build the ships and planes. click
and a dive bomber
both photos of unnamed "Rosies" by Alfred T. Palmer of the Farm Security Administration
I read letters from women to their soldier boyfriends. I watched a documentary series about the war. As it turns out, my story begins a month before the end of the war, so I know a whole lot more than I can use (always a good thing with “historical” novels).
For more general research, and inspiration, I bought the complete New Yorker from 1925 to 2006 on CD’s - a bargain at $60 - which gives me a lot of contemporary news and views and culture. For instance, I learned (and used) the fact that in the spring of 1947 Richard Wright escorted Simone de Beauvoir around Harlem.
From these old New Yorkers I get a sense of the writing of the time, and a certain insular Manhattan attitude that I need for some of my characters. It also gives me wonderful pictures of clothes and cars. I have yet to figure out how to browse through it without becoming caught up in a story or article.
I struggled with my other novels, but I don’t believe any of them were as challenging, had as many stops and starts, as this one. None of them required research into an era. None of them covered more than two years - this story lasts about forty years. More than that, none of them began with biographical bits of me. This one has strayed so far from its beginnings that I have disappeared, but one of the versions was very much me, and I found I wasn’t very fond of myself.
A couple of months ago I examined the situation. I’m 68, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life not finishing this book. My son suggested that if this one is such a struggle, maybe I should write a different one. But it doesn’t work that way. This story, these people, inhabit me.
A few weeks ago I reached a milestone - the end of the first section (courtship, early marriage, moving out of Manhattan) and began to believe again that someday I will reach the end. All I have left is the years with young children, the teenage years, the childless years, and the last year. The first draft will be massive, but then it will exist, ready to be cut and chopped and molded. I hate creating; I love revising. Michelangelo said “Carving is easy, you just go down to the skin and stop.” I will have a huge block of stone to carve.
I've labeled my current work, about the years with young children, chunktwo; I’m three chapters into it. The milestone has given me confidence and new resolve. I can do this. I know where I’m going. I’ll work first thing every morning, after feeding the beasts. What could stop me?
Anyone who writes knows what could stop me. A thousand distractions beckon, and the most tempting lurk in my laptop: Email, Facebook, Free Cell, the New York Times. Even if I avert my eyes from the Firefox icon and go straight to my word processor, when a question arises the Internet is at hand to answer it. So I’ve returned to Freedom, an app which I tried a few years ago and abandoned when I found how easy it was to get around it. It’s not easy in the latest version. I set a schedule to block the Internet, and it’s in effect until I change it - and I believe I can’t change it while it’s actively blocking. (Please don’t tell me if I’m wrong.) I’ve given myself Internet access five hours a day in three parts. It’s wonderful how this has freed up my time, not just the early morning writing time, but the rest of the day. I’m completing all kinds of tasks and projects, and reading more than I have in several years. click
Along with the Internet, my self-imposed monthly blog deadline troubled me. The blog posts take several days; I feared they would destroy my momentum. I ignored my May 6 deadline and kept on chugging along in the novel. But I like writing the blog: it clears my mind; it amuses me; it’s a great writing exercise; and I love finding the illustrations. And so I’ve decided that every time I finish a chapter, I’ll stop and write a blog post. If the chapters come fast and furious, I’ll stockpile posts.
I just finished a chapter (As often happens, I didn’t realize it was ending until it did.) So here I am, in my look-at-me way, telling you about it.
NEXT POST: Sometime in June, or whenever the next chapter is done.