On Writing a Novel
Stage 1. You walk around with a first sentence for a few days. Or weeks. Maybe longer. You don’t want to write the sentence down yet. And you don’t want to begin writing because then you’re in for the long haul. Instead, you allow ideas to percolate.
Stage 2. After ten or twenty pages, you’re feeling good. This might be the best thing you’ve ever written.
Stage 3. After sixty pages or so, you become a little paralyzed because you’d envisioned a different direction, and you’re not sure if this new path is better or worse. But the characters have taken on a life of their own and they begin to occupy more and more of the attic of your thoughts. And you’re constantly thinking, What next?
Stage 4. About halfway through, you wonder what the hell you’re doing. You’ve devoted months of your life to this imagined world, and what’s the difference if you finish it or not? Few people even know you’re writing the book. No one cares. You could have organized your garage pretty well with all the time you spent on these sentences.
Stage 5. About three quarters in, you become excited again because you see an end in sight. If you barrel through, you can always go back and revise later. But if you take a break from the writing—bad idea—you lose the connection to the book, this after a year or more of grueling work, and, either way, some of the apathy from stage 4 rears its head, so you decide you need some twist, some turn to keep you interested, and that’s all you can think about for days and weeks, and when it finally comes to you, this breakthrough that feels perfect, that is perfect, you become greedy with your time and resent everything that interferes with your writing.
Stage 6. A sublime sense of satisfaction greets you as you dot that last sentence. You haven’t stopped hunger or cured cancer, but damn, this feels good. You’ve solved a puzzle of your own making. And the world needs stories, right? You know you have plenty of editing to do, but that’s a welcome prospect. You send the book to one or two trusted readers.
Stage 7. You’re through editing and you’ve sent the book out for consideration. You imagine laudable reviews and interviews and movie rights. This thing, this book, just might get people’s attention.
Stage 8. You wait months for some reaction. You wait longer. The novel, distant now, begins to feel stale. You wonder if it’s any good. You vaguely recall thinking, while writing the book, that this is the best work you’ve ever done. But you wait. And doubt creeps in.
Stage 9. You forget about the book. Mostly. You continue to attend to the business side of the equation, as dispiriting as this can be. But you remain hopeful. Meanwhile, another first sentence announces itself.