At the moment, the manuscript of my first novel has seventeen chapters. I’ve submitted most of it to my editing team, three or four chapters at a time, and most of their feedback has been fantastic, and just the right amount of pointing out confusing things or minor errors, and making good suggestions, without making me feel like I need to rewrite whole chapters. They gave me back their comments on chapters 13 through 15, and I reviewed them this evening (after working all day, having supper, and then relaxing a little while longer before getting online). I started writing a reply, babbled some, and then deleted all that and started again.
After writing most of my reply, I wasn’t sure whether to send it to them, because really most of it was stuff I probably should just tell my therapist, except that I took a break from therapy a few months ago–partly because I was in a fairly stable place with my depression, and partly to save some money. Anyway, it wasn’t necessarily stuff to just dump on my editors, who only know me through the emails we’ve exchanged and the draft (so far) of my novel. But it was enough about the tangled relationships between my writing, my life (both past and present), and my mental health (or illness) that I thought, Maybe this is a blog post. Sure; why not?
I just spent 15+ minutes trying to write you a message, having just read your feedback on chapters 13-15…and then deleted it and I’m trying again.
I remember being in the college library while I was going to Community College of Rhode Island, sitting in a study carrel, probably crying, probably because of Spanish class. (On second thought, it could have been Trigonometry.) And I remember thinking, “I don’t really have to go to a 4-year college”–or maybe something more like, “I won’t ever get to a 4-year college.” It was a dream I had — this fantasy that I could get a degree in English and maybe eventually be a writer — and the main reason I wanted to go to Smith College was because Sylvia Plath had gone to Smith, and I had ALWAYS loved books, loved to read, but it wasn’t until I read Plath’s poetry that… how to explain it? I felt like she had said the kinds of things I wanted to say, that she’d written the way I hoped to write. When I was a teenager, I wrote poems and kept a journal, because I couldn’t NOT write–maybe not even because I had a compulsion for the writing itself, but because I wrote to save my life.
Your feedback on this section was mostly spot-on, with good suggestions–as usual–and even the few things I might not agree with, I can see where you’re coming from. But by the time I finished reading through the comments, I thought, “I am just not good at this fiction thing.” I’ve been thinking for a while that one reason I didn’t try to write fiction for literally decades is because I’m so much in my own head, and my own experience, that it’s hard to imagine being someone else long enough to write believably from that other person’s perspective. If only I’d lived a few decades earlier, I could have been a confessional poet when it was cool.
As the much younger me, in the library at CCRI, felt beaten before she even got to a 4-year college, I feel beaten when it’s time to open my laptop, to get ready to write fiction. “I don’t really have to write a novel…”
—————– [This is basically where I decided to stop writing my editors and just make it a blog post.]
I ultimately dropped Trig, but I got through the Spanish class. I eventually transferred to Smith, and spent five amazing and overwhelming semesters there, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English. Smith was a dream that became a goal, and I made it there, and I even finished. Writing this novel was a dream that has now become a goal, and it’s still taking me longer than I hoped, and a lot of days it’s hard, and then some days I just can’t even, but every week that goes by gets me a little closer to finishing it. If I can just finish chapter 17 (I can!) and get it edited, then I can look at all the feedback on all the chapters, and make the small and easy changes, and decide how much of the bigger stuff I can stand to revise (including if I’m going to insert one more chapter about three-quarters of the way through the book OMG I really don’t know if I can add a whole new chapter this book is taking forever OMG).
Tonight was…not quite. But tomorrow, I’ll try again.