This Monday I decided I wanted to be a writer. You may think I’d decided that before, but no. I hadn’t. This was different. For almost as long as I can remember I have wanted to write, to make beautiful things out of words and to make them the best I can, but the idea of earning money for that work in what the publishing world so frequently reminds us is an “oversaturated market,” has always seemed unbearably intimidating and practically impossible. The writing itself was much easier. I’d make money some other way.
But then, this week, I took a good hard look at my future in this strange time when none of us really know what the future holds anymore, and something in my stubborn little mind rolled over and sat up. I was going, I suddenly decided, to sell this novel. I was going to get it published, people would buy it, and I would be a writer. And immediately it was much less frightening to be off the fence than on it.
So I have spent the last few days reading up on agents and agencies and submission guidelines and how to write a query letter and whether my novel is literary fiction or book club fiction or maybe something called “upmarket commercial.” I also, for the first time in my life, wrote a fan letter to a favorite author. She’s eighty-five this year, so I figured I better get that done while she was still around to read it. I have been busy.
And, of course, I have been writing, properly writing. I will have a novel draft for my final project by the end of the summer. I’m sure of it. Back in college when I was writing a novel I spent a lot of time telling everyone how emotionally exhausting it was. Sitting down to do the deed this time round, I remembered saying that but assumed it was just 21-year-old melodrama. Friends, it was not. (Though it’s also possible that I’m chronically, incurably melodramatic and that this blog is the evidence. But I digress.) In the nicest of ways, I might lose my mind.
I knew going into this project that it would be very personal. I wouldn’t just be lightly drawing on my experience teaching as I wrote, but the entire novel, I knew, was really going to be born out of that experience. I did not know, though, the ways I would be returning to my own time in high school, my own teenage self. Doing so is not painful exactly. Compared to the hellscape they are for some, those years for me were really pretty pleasant. But still they, along with the girl who lived them, seem to me at times to be unbearably fragile, strange and translucent. To dismantle the person I once was (and sometimes still am) and press odd, bright bits of her into the corners of my story with my palms, like a child with Playdoh at the kitchen table, is surreal.
So I’ve been coming up for air tired at the end of each day, and occasionally asking myself if it has to be this intense, if writing really must involve my own self-disembowelment this way, but I think it must. For characters to be real, I must put a piece of myself or at least a piece of someone very dear to me, into them. I think I’ve said this here before, but it probably bears repeating: writing is for me a way of loving. And I want this chance to offer up pieces of myself for years to come, for the whole rest of my life. The only way to relieve myself of my own solemn solipsism, is to roll over, sit up, and joyfully give myself away.