I hit the 100-page mark on my crazy novel-in-progress yesterday (I wrote some about it and the process here), and here’s what came into my head:
Yes, it’s a small victory (as when your “flood pants” keep your cuffs dry), but one that felt big, at least mentally and emotionally. Those pages may be a mess (and boy are they), and it’s just a number, but it feels as though the work is starting to develop into something, or at least I have enough there to actually wrestle with. A third of a book, maybe (or if you’re Tolstoy or Pynchon or DFW, one-twelfth of a book). I still don’t really know where it’s going, but at this point, it seems to want to stick around. I guess I’ll keep following as long as it keeps turning back and giving me a pssst– this way, kid every now and then.
Yesterday, a colleague asked me if I like writing. The answer? Sometimes. Let’s face it, most of the time it’s grueling. It’s a process in which I feel both at my best and at my worst. I return to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird a lot, a book that has saved my bacon more than once, in part because she captures that sense of writing as the most wondrous thing you’ll ever do that also might push you to, or over, the edge, and this reminds me that I’m not alone (see the delightful Amy Poehler on turning to others for strength.) I understand that for some writers it’s not like this (I don’t know any of them), and I have students (young and fresh-faced, all) who question or shrug off the despair that haunts this pursuit for many of us, for myriad reasons.
The truth is, all that 100 pages really means is that I have a ton of work left in front of me, work that I don’t know if I can even do, not to mention finish. And that’s just for a first draft. Not one guarantee of success, personal or career or financial or otherwise, lies at the end of this process, not one. It’s all built on the uneven, shifting ground of faith: in self, in story, in art-making. All too often it seems easier to lose faith than to find it.
So I’ll take a Milhousian victory on this one. May all your cuffs stay dry out there.