Um, I feel like I'm waking up from some sort of fever dream. Or like I'm emerging from a cave, my face hit with a blinding light that my corneas aren't used to. I've been deep in the recesses of my mind for a while now, but as of last night, I'm on my way out.
Last night, I finished a novel. A novel I started three weeks ago. Twenty-one days ago. I started writing a novel twenty-one days ago, and today, 51,000 words and 130 (Google Docs) pages later, I'm done.
Let's unpack that.
I do this thing where I become obsessed with writing. I mean, I am a writer, so obviously I'm a little obsessed with it at all times. I've formed a writing habit that -- outside of bouts of mental overload, anxiety, or, once in 2018 and again in 2020, depression -- has me writing something every single day. As we all know, because I've talked about it more than once, I formed this habit after reading a quote from Octavia Butler about habit vs. inspiration. I will always sing habit's praises. Habit keeps you writing, and is therefore the most reliable tool in a writer's belt.
Inspiration, however, makes you mad.
Inspiration makes you forget about everything else -- eating, showering, sleep, responsibilities -- to focus on The Thing. When I have a project like that, I forsake everything else. For me, inspiration is obsession. I go to sleep, wake up, and spend my day thinking about a story, so much so that I'm acting out scenes in the shower and writing dialogue in my sleep (and waking up to type out a quick text note before I forget what I've just conceived). Obsession is how We Are Eternal and Way Down Low happened. Both were written in about a month; tens of thousands of words each, all in under thirty days.
I knew this latest project was going to be an "Inspiration" (read: Obsession) project when I made a music playlist for it. It may sound funny -- and trust me, it is -- but when I have music for a story that I feel inspired to write to, that means the story is alive for me. The music invokes its characters, scenes, and feelings. By then, it's a done deal. That story is getting written.
I mentioned this story briefly in my last blog post about life. I talked about how I hadn't been writing much, except slowly working on my novel set in Ireland. Life had been hectic over the summer, so I was only writing a little a day: a paragraph or two. Maybe a page. All of it is progress, so I wasn't complaining, but it was slow going, and I had some goals I wasn't going to meet unless I kicked it into high gear. In the post, I gave myself an end-of-year goal to finish my novel set in Ireland and, in the meantime, write a barebones draft of another story -- this story -- during the thirty days of September. I didn't think I'd be able to do it, mostly because I was dead set on writing this Ireland story and I've never attempted to write two projects at once.
Then the aforementioned obsession kicked in -- the thinking about scenes and the character development and the playlist. I even (tentatively) titled it My Brain on Love and Panic. Somewhere in late August, I had everything for this new story all laid out. I had the most Type B outline you've ever seen and so much dialogue that a quarter of the story was basically written already. So one night I just started writing it. Why wait any longer when I had the freaking playlist, right?
I was writing both stories for a while. I stayed on my Ireland timeline pretty easily, since it was a weekly goal as opposed to Love and Panic's daily one. After a week, I cared about my Ireland progress less and less, but meanwhile I was cranking out one, sometimes two chapters per day on the other story. Going into September, I accepted the fact that my groove was strictly in Love and Panic right now, and I rolled with it.
Ireland will still get written. I'll for sure have it completed by the end of this year. But here's what you may not know -- I haven't "completed" a novel, per se, in six years. I've edited. I've been published. I've written nearly every single day. But I've also done life. I've gotten married. I've had kids. I bought a house. I've been working. Completing a novel hasn't been as urgent for me as it has been these past three weeks in a long, long time. It's exhilarating, it's bewildering, and it tells me a few things--
One: I need to publish this story. ASAP. When something bursts out of me this fast and this organically, it's definitely for a reason. I learned that with We Are Eternal.
Two: I already said this in my last post, but Ireland will have to wait. Again. A lot of Love and Panic was inspired by personal experiences, so I feel more confident in the content here than what I'm writing about in the Ireland story. I've been to the country, yes, but haven't had the same experiences as my character, so writing about them doesn't feel quite right. Yet. It will happen, just not on the timeline I originally planned. And I'm okay with that.
Three: Love and Panic will be my next story in print. Guaranteed. Maybe that's part manifestation, and maybe I'm being incredibly optimistic, but when you're a writer trying to be a career writer, you have to have a certain level of confidence in what you've done. This story should definitely be told, and the explanation why belongs in another post. That's coming. I'm taking a short break from fiction writing, so I'll have plenty of time to write a post here about it.
Being a working mother/household co-runner and a writer is usually challenging for me. I get bogged down by my responsibilities, telling myself I shouldn't be writing when I could be catching up on sleep, or exercising, or paying bills, or any other insert-boring-adult-thing-here. Being a working mother/household co-runner and a writer obsessed, however -- it's actually very easy for me to do that. I simply become ultra productive, something I am not on a regular basis.
When I'm writing under the influence of obsession, literally nothing gets in the way of it. I write between tasks at work. I write between patron transactions on the desk at work. I write when I should be processing books (the books get processed... at some point). I write during my kids' naptime on weekends. I write at night, late into the night. I get 4 hours of sleep and I don't regret it. I don't talk on the phone as much (as if I did that anyway). I don't go on social media. I exercise to get it out of the way, not to release endorphins. My main endorphin release is fleshing out that scene I've been imagining for weeks. It's writing that one bit of dialogue that gives me chills. It's working toward the finish line -- a lot like running, which I love doing, toward a finish line. Same heart-pumping, thrill-inducing effect.
And so, that's where I've been. I have another completed novel in my arsenal. It's a first draft, and it needs work, but editing is the fun part. Getting the raw material is the work, but once you have something to work with, you're golden.
An excerpt is forthcoming. Just give me a moment to let my eyes adjust to the light.