Birthing a suitcase

Just read a great blog post by first-time novelist Natalie Bakopoulos  about her rocky, self-doubting road to completion. Her book, The Green Shore, has a publisher (Simon and Shuster) and a cover and a date, June 2012. It’s an actual thing – immutable. I can only hope that I’m right behind you, Natalie.

While I occasionally imagine the outfit I might wear at my book launch, I have never envisioned the done deal - real pages, bound but un-tethered, out in the world, read without me waiting, too eager and dread-filled, for editorial suggestions to feed some next iteration.

I want so badly for it to be finished but at this point, many versions beyond its first bloated incarnation, my novel feels more like a dirty Kleenex I’m trying to lose when there’s no garbage can around. Someone is always there to hand it back to me.

“I think you dropped this.”

“Thanks.” (I was finished with it! Couldn’t you tell?)

Natalie and I seem to have a similarly spotty, non-linear writing process. For me, it’s very much in keeping with how I do anything in my life. A third of the laundry is folded. I notice some papers lying on the floor and start to sort them, which reminds me of the bill I haven’t paid. Then after dripping dry, I get a few toilet paper rolls for the bathroom and spot my kid’s dirty socks on the floor of his bedroom, which reminds me of the laundry. I guess the hope is eventually most things will get done.  The writing process is different only in that there's one desired end. So it’s a bit like a game of Capture the Flag which involves lots of sprinting and heavy breathing, some dodging, some running towards, some running away, a fair amount of hiding behind trees, and the occasional deluded thought that you’re really close to getting the flag.

(I’m a huge fan of as many metaphors as possible.)

People (not Natalie) often use the metaphors surrounding birth to describe the process of writing a book. To a degree it works – the bloating, pushing, sweating, crying and yelling - but once it’s done, it’s done, until you do it again a second time. When has any midwife or doctor taken a good look at that newly arrived baby, then shoved it right back in there because the arms are too long, eyes too close together, hair the wrong colour? A baby comes into the world with all its imperfections, hopefully to be loved and cared for. Novels don’t work that way.

The novel gets gestated and regestated, birthed and rebirthed. It’s exhausting, demoralizing and leaves you with an over-used birth canal and drained placenta. How many more brilliant phrases and ideas can I possibly grow? Zillions of people are writing books every day, and drawers and computer drives are packed with their stillborn offspring. Then there are the millions a year that see the light. If we’re lucky, it might feel like squeezing out a bowling ball, but chances are, it will be more like passing a large suitcase. Unlike the baby analogy, our written creations, once out, are on their own, waiting to be fed, celebrated or eviscerated by professional strangers.

I envy Natalie her position. Finished. Her photo is all something-to-smile-about, next to an image of the book that awaits only a few more words - her autograph and possibly a greeting. Then into the hands of a hopefully eager reader.

I agree with Natalie’s schizophrenic description of the love hate relationship one has to oneself and one’s writing – “self-loathing and self-aggrandizing”. I can, in the course of a day, read the same paragraph as inspired literary genius and over-written drivel. “Try to avoid both extremes,” Natalie suggests. Excellent advice. But for someone whose blog is called Nothing in Moderation I’m not optimistic that’s a battle I can win.

But I know I can finish this novel. And it’s always comforting to hear how others have stumbled to good endings.



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