So there’s something I’ve been keeping kind of quiet from you guys on this blog, and for that I’m sorry. Some of you may not know this, but I am a person of many and varying interests: reading, politics, knitting, sewing, business, accounting, sports, current events, traveling, painting, food (in particular, GMOs), movies, nerdiness, language, and learning in general, to name the ones I can think of in 30 seconds. This gets stressful for me, because I have this feeling that I always need to be doing something. Because if I’m not spending my now considerable amounts of free time working on some or all of these things and trying to get better at them, then I am wasting my life. Some may feel this is a silly thing to get stressed about, but I think it is very important to work at bettering myself, and I aspire to be a renaissance woman. There are some days I get home from work and I just surf the web all night because I can’t decide which interest deserves my time and attention and so I end up doing none of them. This is part of the reason why I only write blog posts every few weeks – I write one, and then move on to other interests, and then after a while get the urge to write about something else again. Which brings me to the topic of the evening: writing.
Many of you are probably aware (though some of you perhaps are not) that I am currently working on my first novel. From the time I was around six and my dreams of becoming an astronaut were dashed with the viewing of the movie Apollo 13 and the nightmares that followed, I wanted to be a novelist. I wrote my first novel in 3rd grade, a masterpiece about a boy growing up in the jungle entitled Leon’s Life. Sadly, it never made it to the New York Times bestseller list. My second novel attempt came in 4th grade with a final assignment we were given. I slaved away on it for weeks and weeks; instead of going out to recess I would sit at the school’s one computer and type away as fast as my little fingers could manage, trying to get it all down before the school year ended. My teacher, Ms. Cangro, had to massage my hands because they got all cramped up and painful. My favorite time of the day was when we would work on our projects, and I finished up the semester with an impressive ten-page manuscript. On the last day, we each got a chance to present our projects, and I could barely sit still in my chair, anxiously watching the clock and hoping there would be enough time for me to share. Finally, my name was called and I sat at the front of the class, my heart thumping in my chest as I began to read. About halfway down the first page, the bell rang and there was a mad dash for the door, leaving me sitting at the front of the room with my pages clutched in my sweaty hands, feeling crushed. On the bus on the way home, I asked some classmates what they thought of what they heard. The told me it was ‘alright’, but sounded a lot like Harry Potter (which, granted, it probably did since that was – and still is – my favorite book). That same year I also had a poem of mine published on the school’s website, so despite the setback with my novel, I felt my writing career was off to a moderately good start.
Unfortunately, we all must go through that dratted time of adolescence, and my stories of magic and wonder and adventure turned to angsty poems about how nobody liked me. In 7th grade, my english teacher, Ms. Luppino, saw my love of writing and got my head back on straight, encouraging me to go to a poetry writing workshop at the local college and pushing me to push myself. Thank goodness for good teachers. From then, I wrote sporadically, mostly for school projects, though my dream of being a writer was still very much alive. I started five or six short stories that I hoped would turn into novels, but I never knew where they were going, and I never stuck with them long enough to find out. Eventually, it came time for me to choose a college, and I looked exclusively at places that had a creative writing major available. I still wasn’t entirely sure of myself – I thought maybe I wanted to be a museum curator, or maybe I wanted to own a yarn shop, or maybe I wanted to be a costumer and make beautiful gowns like those I saw in the Lord of the Rings. Or maybe I wanted to be a novelist. Then, one day, my good friend Camilla went to visit a school called Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. They didn’t offer her major, being a very small, private school, so she didn’t end up going, but she came home and told me about it. “Hannah, this place would be perfect for you, you absolutely have to check it out.” I grudgingly gave in, and looked the place up online. It was beautiful, and I mean beautiful. The dorms were remodeled Victorian mansions, the campus had lovely old brick buildings with odd stairways running up the sides, and the view of Lake Champlain was breathtaking. The only trouble was, they didn’t have a creative writing major (I have just now found out that they recently created a creative writing specialization within the creative media major. Eff). What they had was professional writing, and the more I looked at the courses, the more I didn’t think it was for me. Technical writing? That sounded awful. Journalism? Not at all interested. And the more I thought about it, the more frightened I became. What if I lost my creative voice under a mountain of technical know-how? What if I came to hate writing from doing it every single day? Did I really want to live and breathe this if it was going to be topics assigned to me by random teachers, instead of me deciding for myself what to be writing? Wouldn’t it be better to write what I want to write on the side, rather than have my passion taken from me, shaped and molded and potentially stamped out? So I studied business, thinking that at least it would be useful in a lot of areas, and might potentially get me to my other goal of someday owning that yarn shop.
Now, having just graduated, my original dream of being a novelist has been obsessing me. I still think I made the right choice in studying business, but at the moment it would definitely be nice to have a bit more technical writing skills. Plot. Character development. Narrative flow. You see, I began working on my first novel about five months ago, planning and outlining to be ready in time for this year’s National Novel Writing Month in November, a marathon of writing where 100,000 people across the globe attempt to write 50,000 words (150 pages) in one month. Very few succeed, and I have never tried. I figured if I had everything planned out for my story beforehand, then I could just sit down and write it when November comes. Easy, right? With every day closer to November 1st, the day before my 23rd birthday, I grow more and more afraid. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not doing it ‘the right way’. I’m writing as a hobby and not with the passion, blood, sweat and tears that pretty much every successful writer talks about. One of my favorite authors, John Green, talks about how he wouldn’t go out with his friends at night to the movies or bowling, because he wanted so badly to be a successful novelist that he would stay home and write. Shit. I go out with my friends all the time. Should I stop hanging out with my friends? Should I even be writing this blog post right now? Why am I not spending every minute of free minute working on this novel? Panic is beginning to set in.
The novel itself is not going so well either. For a while there I was on a roll, things were going great, and I knew that this story would be a great success. Brandon and I brainstorm together a lot, and together we have come up with some ideas that I think are really cool. However, now it’s just…meandering. It’s at a point where I don’t have enough time before November to keep adding these little fun details here and there. I need to answer the big questions, develop the characters, solidify the plot. J.K. Rowling has notebooks and notebooks filled with backstory and details about every little thing to do with her world. Only a fraction of it made it into the books, but she had that back knowledge in her mind to draw from at a moment’s notice, and to help her shape things in a direction that made sense. So far, I have twelve pages of one notebook written, and every measly page feels incredibly inadequate. I don’t work at it every day. I don’t know where I’m going with it. I just know that I want it.
On the NaNoWriMo website, they suggest that you tell as many people as possible that you are writing a novel, so that you will work hard to avoid the embarrassment that will come if everyone you see asks you how your novel is coming along, and you have to say you gave up. I have been doing this for a few months now, and so far it has mainly increased the fear of failure. It has made me feel like an impostor, telling everyone I’m writing a novel when all I have are twelve stupid little pages of notes and ideas and questions still left to answer. I already feel embarrassed. I want this so badly, but part of me (a very loud part at the moment) is asking me what the heck I think I’m doing. I didn’t put in the time of going to school for english lit or creative writing. I haven’t been slaving away for years on end, trying to get one stinking story published in a literary magazine, receiving rejection after rejection. I didn’t get a crappy job at a publishing house, hoping I would have time for my own writing on the side while getting my foot in the door. I was too scared to do all that. I was a coward. And now I think I can just waltz in and write a novel? So many of my little side projects have ended in abject failure: weaving, learning French, playing the piano, the list goes on. I grew up thinking I was amazing or special because I have wonderful, loving parents who told me I was, and I thank them for making me feel confident in myself. But as life has gone on my own ordinariness has become more and more apparent. Right now I feel like any other person, and there is no reason on earth why anyone should or would sit up and listen to me, or read what I have to say. This blog has 9 followers. I have a friend who got 10,000 followers after just a few months on her blog, and she didn’t even promote it. I’m not trying to have a pity party here, or feel sorry for myself at all, I’m just trying to be realistic. What am I even doing?
But then…I remember the story I’m trying to tell. The idea that’s in my head. The world I can see so clearly in my mind’s eye that it’s like watching a movie. And I remember why I’m doing this, why I’m attempting it. I’m doing this for me, because I really love it, because I enjoy it, and it doesn’t really even matter if it’s good or not, if it’s published or not. What matters is that I get it out, that I tell the story I want to tell. Maybe other people will read it, maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll love it, maybe they won’t. But what’s important is the process, the exercise, the starting and then working and then finishing. I’m not exactly sure what will come from all of this, or if I will even succeed, but I guess I’ll just start and we’ll see where it goes. 🙂
Here is the (basic and ever-evolving) plot to my forthcoming debut novel:
Democracy on the mainland has failed. Having had enough, an elite group
of philosophers have teamed up with a powerful corporate backer to build a
floating utopian city: Exodus. The two groups have an agreement – neither
asks questions about the others’ work. The arrangement suits both groups,
but there is a third party involved also. A group of desperately poor people
from the mainland have volunteered to work on the island and keep it
running, hoping it will afford them a better life. Now, 20 years later,
two children born to this life are more curious than their parents. Ava and
Martin want to know where their floating city is going and why – and
what the powerful corporation running it is up to. Clever and resourceful,
they will stop at nothing to get the answers they seek –
even if it costs them their lives.