I have been remiss in posting. The last time I did, I said I would take off November to focus on my first novel, and I did. I thought about jumping back in immediately in December, but instead continued the efforts toward the novel, and finished the first draft. I spent some time grinning about that, and with my writing group as cheerleaders, printed the thing. Now mind you, this is not some industrial printer; it was a gift, and intended primarily for the photographs Hawthorne was taking, mostly of flowers and birds. Ella, of course, was a favorite subject, and was happy to laze in a sunny spot while Hawthorne played with filters and settings.
Still, it’s a printer, even if the paper comes out one slow page at a time, and there isn’t a large enough tray to hold a regular letter after it’s complete. I was giddy, watching words that I had written slowly emerge from the sleek black box. When I got too caught up, the page would flutter to the floor, only to be snatched up within seconds. The tray ran out of paper five times. I found a stack of paper dating back to at least when we got the printer, and kept feeding it in. I put the last half-inch stack in the tray, and bit my nails that it wouldn’t be enough. I had the Zoom company of friends laughing along with me. The printer stopped, about a quarter inch of paper left.
196 pages. I had written a book.
It is a wondrous feeling. I had felt similar at work before, or at school; finishing a large project, my capstone, my thesis. That had felt like validation and triumph – I was smart, I was competent, I could handle anything that was assigned to me.
This? This was entirely different. This incorrectly formatted half-ream of paper, it’s edges not quite aligned (as happens when you assemble a large deck, card by card, before you tap it out), was more than validation, more than triumph. This was pride, and wonder, and joy. Here in my hands was a cohesive story that I had pulled, part by disjointed part, out of my imagination. I had been living with some of these people in my head for months; there were a few newcomers, too, that hadn’t arrived until November. They were all here. Their stories, in sum and in part.
Don’t ask if I cried, you know I did. Of course I did. I had accomplished something that, even six months before, had never thought I would do. I had written a novel.
Now, it is nearing the end of March. I haven’t done a lot of writing so far since finishing the book. I did complete the drafts and edits for a chapter for The Rising Sisterhood (much more to come on this later). I have also been reading voraciously, constantly consuming other’s words: everything from Jane Eyre to queer smut to books on personal development skill building; and, for once, a novel.
I’ve always classified the reading I do as either “books” or “romance.” I’m a huge Nora Roberts fan, and love to read anything queer and sexy I can get my hot little hands on. I don’t mean that it’s not good writing, but more than it’s almost like TV for me. It’s not super serious, I can get wrapped up in it but without stress, and I know how it will end. It’s like rewatching Parks and Rec or 30 Rock for the seventh time. Other than that, however, I don’t often reach for one of the glossy paperbacks from the best-sellers in fiction.
Some new friends loaned me The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. I took it because I want to be reading more of anything, the way I used to. So when the time came to leave for my little trip, I grabbed it off my desk on my way out the door and tossed it on top of about eight other books.
I had given myself an early birthday present – a short solo trip at the beginning of March, in a charming AirBnB in New Hampshire. I was leaving my daughter for the first time since she was in the NICU; my sister and her fiancé would stay with her until I came home three days later. I loaded up on provisions: a full cake, loaf of bread, lox and cream cheese, thirteen notebooks, all my crystals and tarot cards, computer, markers, and even the printer. I didn’t want to suddenly want to do something, and not have it with me, for what I was calling my writing retreat. I had a list of things I wanted to do – update my reading journal, cleanse my crystals, walk for miles. Mostly, though, what I needed was the space and the silence to figure out exactly what it is I want from all this writing.
I’m currently involved in several projects – one as a coauthor on a research paper, a coauthor chapter for The Rising Sisterhood, the Patreon I wanted to launch, the novel I was working on, this blog; and any number of jotted ideas and quick lines of poetry. I hadn’t been writing a lot not only because I was in revision mode, but because I couldn’t determine where I wanted to focus all this creative energy. I had figured out by the winter solstice that I needed clarity on this, and scheduled this trip into the mountains.
When I got there and settled in, I went into “town,” picked up a large pizza and two six-packs; far more than I expected to drink, but it would be great to take some home and savor for the spring. After that, other than long walks on mountain roads, I didn’t leave the house until I was checking out to go home. I texted a couple folks, but other than a co-author call, spoke to no one for the duration of my stay.
I treasured the peace, and made the most out of my time away. At first, I wasn’t getting the answers I wanted; by my first sunrise there, I was wondering if I had made a mistake, if this had been a bad idea, or if I just wasn’t ready to treat myself like an actual writer. The trip hadn’t been the wrong step, but maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself to figure things out. So I talked out loud, filled page after page, and read like it was drawing breath.
The first night, I read one of Cat Sebastian’s queer romances cover to cover; it was blatantly sexy and perfect for my mood, sitting by the fireplace in the wintering mountains, so cold the snow squeaked underfoot. The next morning, I picked up The Night Circus. I remember shrugging as I took it downstairs to settle in.
I utterly devoured this book. I read it in three sittings, utterly entranced. I laughed out loud, startling myself in the cabin alone. I cried, tears dashed away so my eyes could keep clear enough to keep reading.
Finally on my last evening there, after another writing reflection session that didn’t feel productive, I pushed back from the little table where I was set up. I grabbed the book and went to take a bath. I sank in – the tub was deep, and reminded me of a free-standing version of the one we had in Vermont. The book I couldn’t stop thinking about sat on the tray that had been made for the tub along with an ice cold beer, sweating in the small, steamy room. I don’t know if I’d even had my first sip of it yet when it dawned on me – the answer I had come to find was right in front of my face. Literally, as it turns out.
It took two-and-a-half days of writing and reflection; over six thousand words of deep-diving into myself and questioning myself. I had to walk away and come back to it time and time again, peeling back the layers of years of feedback and feelings, of what I’ve been told I can and cannot do, if I’m using or wasting my potential. Onions are a good analogy for this sort of slogging discovery; tears burn in your eyes, the unpleasantness gets into your pores as you have to dig in to separate, and the stench lingers in your nostrils.
What do I want out of my writing? I want to write for me, and write for other people. I want this to be a career, not just a hobby. I want to share my writing as far and wide as I can get it, not because I think it’s that good (because we all know how that imposter syndrome gets sneaky), but because I have a lot of things to say and too much experience with peoples’ voices being silenced by death too early. I have stories inside of me, which is a magic all its own. I want a certain amount of success; I want people to recommend my words to their friends. I want the glossy cover, the capital NYT BESTSELLER emblazoned across the top. I don’t have to be a household name as an author, but I want my stories to be known well – most people have heard of Night Circus or The Time-Traveler’s Wife, but do you know the authors off the top of your head? Likely not (Erin Morgenstern and Audrey Niffenegger, respectively) And that sounds just about perfect.
So from here, I am going to finish my work with The Rising Sisterhood. I’m going to pause my Patreon and some other smaller projects I’ve got in the works. I’m going to keep writing down things as they come to me, until they are ready. I’m going to focus my attention on the writing that I can share.
The books, the novels I have inside me, I’m writing those because I need to get the stories out, and I’m writing them for other people.
The blog is back, and staying. The value this has had for me has been incredible. I wonder if I would have had an easier winter if I’d kept it up. At the same time, however, stepping away from it gave me room to go out and explore different styles and ways and communities of writing. Coming back to writing this, on schedule, from the heart, feels like coming home.
I write the blog because my soul needs to write, and for some things, to share. I’m not suggesting that this is someone else’s survival guide, but I know it’s read, and that’s enough for me.
Thank you for reading, I hope you continue to. And if you need or want to step away for a while, well, the magic of the internet will make sure this is here when you want to come back.
I am home, and ready to write with open arms.
3 thoughts on “Buried in Your Bones, There’s an Ache You Can’t Ignore”
Beautiful, MJ. I am so happy that you are finding yourself and what you really want to do with your life. Go with your dreams! Your writing is a joy to read, even when the subject if heart-wrenching.
Yay Marjanna. Can’t wait to read it!
So glad to see you took the time to discover what’s important to you! You are such a skillful writer. The world needs to have access to more of your writing. Can’t wait to read your novel.