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The Novelist

The novelist, unlike the poet or short story writer, has the endurance of a marathon runner [or a cyclist]…John Gardner, On Becoming A Novelist

When I was a kid writing, the only thing that had an ending was a journal entry. Any short story I tried to write kept wanting to take another breath on a new page. I’d get frustrated because of lack of skill to take that extra breath, so the story or would be novel, would go unfinished.  As an adult, my screenplays read more like novels. My film professor suggested for me to “write the novel first, then shoot the film, capitalize on both.”  In the MFA program, I tried to extend my repertoire and write shorter pieces. I tried poetry. I tried stream of consciousness. The short story still alludes me.  I had to finally take a deep breath, let out a huge sigh, and accept the fact that I’m a novelist.  That is where I shine and feel most at home. And it makes sense when I look at the rest of my life.

When I look for parking, I take my time, always nailing the close spot. I take the scenic route home that has less traffic. I prefer to travel by train.  While in college, I joined the cycling team. It was my first time cycling, let alone on a collegiate team. I had to choose between short distance speed race training or long distance endurance rides.  I felt like I was intentionally demanding my heart to stop by going full throttle in zero to ten seconds on the short distance speed rides, so I went for the longer rides. In the beginning, I’d watch my teammates speed away from our starting point, me trekking along slowly for the first hour or so on long, windy country roads, always the last to get back.  A couple of months later, after about 45 minutes into the ride, cycling slow and steady, I began to gradually gain speed as I entered ‘the zone’. I found myself catching up and passing the panting hot shot riders who had left me in their dust cloud (what a thrill that was the first time I passed them leaving my own trail—see ya!). 

Endurance, patience, and fidelity are pre-existing qualities that a novelist possesses. The late author of the fantastic novel Grendel, John Gardner speaks to the psychological and mental dynamic that great novelists seem to already possess internally in his book On Becoming A Novelist. According to Gardner, the choice to write novels is not so much an inclination toward ego-centered ambition, but moreso a right fit. After reading Gardner’s summation on what makes a novelist tick, and looking at my own inner psychological & biological rhythm, I was relieved to find that it wasn’t just masochism that drove me to see a story through, no matter if its 200 pages or 400.

Self-assurance is also a ritual the novelist must embrace. Writing a novel can be an exhilarating task, but also long suffering as I watch my writing friends crank out and publish short stories & poems expeditiously. While they begin to accumulate accolades for their writing, it can at times make me feel like I’m riding at the end of the pack while I’m in the throes of a 300 page novel.  This is when I have to gather my inner resources and assure myself that a great novel requires the time, skill, care, and steadiness that I put into it. And eventually, a great novel is the reward.

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The Peak…

Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it. …Buddha

The above quote I found in the spectacular book A Life in the Arts by the greatest creative inspirational teacher and writer, Eric Maisel. I say greatest because his writing was the first I discovered that spoke directly to artists who have to struggle to find their way, their voice. I found his book Van Gogh Blues in a tiny used Vancouver bookstore. I had no idea what the book was about, but it changed my writing life, my approach to writing, and most importantly, his words aided me to find my confidence and take ownership of my creative life, because if you don’t do it, no one else will. Many don’t realize how hard it is to do what we do. It takes a unique bravery to create a work from the ground up not knowing when or if we will have any sort of success. And if you don’t have an Eric Maisel art coach living with you, it’s an almost impossible feat.

Self-motivation is the trek up the mountain. But I hear the peak is awesome…

I have found that once a writer knows what it is they truly wish to express within their work, that’s when the work gets done. I think I’ve come to a place of liberation with my craft, where I can now let go of expectations, and just get the writing done with my own signature. I’m no longer attached to finding conventional methods of writing. I have my own quirky rhythm. Even though, since childhood, I’m naturally a night writer, adulthood has meant me having to shift my vampire schedule to write by day if the deadline deems appropriate (it always does). Thus, I have to re-create night as much as I can during the day. I write by day with a candle burning, curtains closed, headphones with appropriate soundtrack music, the Weather Channel is on mute on my television (don’t ask), and I have a sweet fruit drink that sits on a phenomenal writing desk whose construction mimics the complexity of the Star Trek bridge that I acquired at the local thrift store.

Odd? Maybe.

But since I’m not normally a day time writer, it’s a formula that I’ve stumbled into that works. If I write at night, I lose all sense of time. Night is the safest place to write. If it’s not a Friday night (I live in a college town), then night is the quiet time. No impending appointments. No bills to pay. No nudging feelings that I need to check my email every five minutes because no one is up emailing me in the middle of the night. No gardeners with loud leaf blowers. The dependent is in bed, snoring lightly. I light a candle. Say goodbye to the mundane, and hello to greet the magic of the muse.

No matter how unconventional the flow may seem, I’ve learned to embrace it. It is my own passion for my creative life that has gotten me to that awesome peak…that is the place you need to get, and then you soar.

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