Writing a novel seems to be the only “big” project I can affectively split into smaller pieces over an extended period of time (30 days, to be exact). I often refer to myself as a chronic procrastinator, but as much as I love to poke fun at my personal mental quirks, it’s a legitimate problem for me (except, of course, during NaNoWriMo). 86 percent of my stress comes from having to get things done last-minute. And since I have to finish things, always, I often find myself digging a deeper and deeper hole in the ground, until I start feeling like I do … well, right about now.
“If you’re so busy you can’t see straight,” you’re asking, “why are you writing a novel? And why are you taking time out of your day to blog about it?”
Let me explain a fairly abstract concept to you, really quick.
If you’re not a writer, picture in your mind your favorite thing to do, the one thing in the world you wish you could do 24/7 and get paid for it (sure, I suppose sleeping could count). This thing does not stress you out. Even when you have a thousand other things to do, if you take an hour out of your day to do this one thing, it all seems manageable. Right?
Writing, for me (and maybe for you, too) is a step even beyond that feeling of relief and serenity. Not only do I get to set my daily stressors aside and make a mental journey to another place or time or somewhere that doesn’t even really exist at all, but I get to BE someone else. I primarily write in the first-person, which only makes this a little easier to comprehend. You literally have to step outside of yourself and into this imaginary person you’ve created in order to understand them enough to tell their story from their point of view. It’s like an imaginary friend but more sophisticated. Maybe actors feel this way when they get a new script to read from. Am I making any sense?
So for about an hour this morning, my life transformed. I’d just finished spending some quality time with Faulkner and was honestly too tired (I’d only had one cup of coffee at that point) to start anything remotely productive (in an academic sense). I knew I had 1,667 words to write today, but picturing my to-do list in my head, I took a deep breath and decided to get my writing done before diving into other projects. Because as much as I might love to write, it’s still another task, and I do feel better as soon as my daily quota has been met. I can’t let myself go over that, but that’s beside the point (and probably the only thing “stressful” about the ordeal). Notice I didn’t say I wanted to “get it out of the way.” I knew I would feel re-energized as soon as I hit my daily requirement, so I grabbed my laptop and curled up in my pink fuzzy blanket and started typing.
Ashley is a very complex character, but she’s complex because the only information the reader can get from her is by memory and flashback. She exists in the present tense, and has thoughts, but no emotions (not that she can presently identify). She hears what people around her are saying and can follow their directions and understand their motives, but she doesn’t react to them, or speak. It’s purposeful, but it makes my brain hurt. I’m not ready to dive into that puzzle yet. So I’m focusing on Callie, mainly in the past-tense right now. She can walk and talk and express emotions just fine, but it’s all still connected to Ashely’s story, so that character isn’t just forgotten in the present. I love this character. Yes, it is possible to love someone you made up.
Callie represents a lot of things I admire about a combination of people I know, but the only way she really relates to me is her love of coffee (obsession?) and she’s not based on any specific person in the Real World. Therefore, I’m making everything up. For that hour, I got to enter my own Big Pretend World, where I’m a lot better at forming sentences in front of other people and sleeping at normal intervals and maintaining human relationships. I’m still the writer, though – so guess what? I might know what Callie’s stresses are, and feel the weight of those just a little bit, but I also know the ending of the story. Everything’s going to work out (sort of). All the tension and uncertainty and sadness is going to go away.
Since we can’t say the same about our own lives, it’s comforting to be able to whisper to your struggling fictional character, in a way, “Hey. Chin up. It’s all going to be all right.”
Now think: if we were all characters in a story (which, if you believe in God like I do, we sort of are), wouldn’t it be great if a big booming voice would say that when it feels like everything is falling apart and nothing is right and we’re so stressed we’re nauseous?
If you were wondering why I take the time to write, despite being a senior dietetics major and editor of this thing and that thing and what-not, well, now hopefully you know.
With all that now open and available for discussion/criticism/debate in the virtual universe, I must return to my real life, which involves researching this topic, answering these questions, grading this homework, studying this concept, reviewing this article, editing this piece, drinking coffee running a few miles and really hoping the next 28 days doesn’t kill me or make me feel like I’m dead even when I’m still walking.
If it did permanently terminate my existence, my novel would forever remain unfinished, and that would just not be okay.