A couple weeks ago, I finished the umpteenth draft of the Untitled Novel I’ve spent the last two years writing. I should’ve felt accomplished, proud, or, at the very least, relieved. I didn’t. The novel wasn’t finished.
When I started this unnumbered draft, I felt pretty confident in the viability, marketability, and overall concept of the story. I’d tested the idea on a handful of friends who fit the targeted demographic, and they all thought it was interesting to varying degrees. My friends are awesome. They’re super-supportive and wonderful liars. So I could tell when a worried furrow creased their brow at the same time they smiled with feigned interest. The fact that they had finished the book meant the idea held their interest, but I could tell I hadn’t hit a home run. The ending was unsatisfying.
To be fair, before I even sent them copies, I knew this was true. That annoying creature that sits on every writer’s shoulder and nags us to press our fingers to the keyboard day after day when all we want to do is go have a drink with friends…it told me so. But I didn’t listen. I didn’t want to acknowledge I needed yet another extension on my self-imposed deadline. I take deadlines very seriously. I have to– otherwise, I’d never accomplish anything. The art of procrastination was a specialty of mine, but Pride also guided many of my actions, and Pride would not let me miss a deadline.
Guilt and shame rushed through me and I started to panic. How much longer could I keep my friends at bay and hide out in this writer’s bunker in the middle of nowhere before I went crazy? Better yet, was this book even worth all the personal sacrifices I’d made?
I had an incredible network of friends who supported me, literally, with meals and offers of free places to stay while I finished my book. But to be quite honest, coasting along for the past few years on the backs of others was embarrassing. They loved me, my friends, and if I never made a dime as a writer, they would still support me… but two years was enough. It was time to publish this book.
But I couldn’t. It wasn’t done. The ending was flat. The conclusion lacked a soul. I knew it needed something, but I had no idea what that something was. So for the last three weeks, I had ruminated. I thought of different ways the book could end– plot stuff– but that wasn’t what I needed. The ending required something I couldn’t just create. I had to wait for it. I knew I would recognize it when it showed up and that I’d have to be ready with a pen and paper when it came, so I sat around in coffee shops, parks, and the beach ready to jot down notes at a moment’s notice.
It wasn’t coming though, so I left on a short weekend trip to NY with my family and then it happened. The idea struck me as I was walking down Madison Ave window-shopping with friends and without a pen and paper in hand. I whipped out my iPhone and furiously began to record the idea in my “Notes”. It came out as a jumble of specific images and broad tonal instruction, which I quickly translated into shorthand notes I hoped would make sense later.
Elizabeth Gilbert best describes the struggle with creatively in her TED talk on nurturing creativity. But I’d like to take that notion a step further and explore the idea that if something isn’t coming to you…be patient. Go to a museum, park, mountaintop, observatory, your backyard, or wherever inspires you, and just be on alert because it will come eventually.
Tomorrow I’ll start the rewrite of Chapter 24.