The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Journal of a Wannabe Novelist

Entry 5

It’s Monday morning and I’m feeling somewhat perturbed. I wasn’t supposed to write over the week-end because it’s just not possible for me to devote the time. I’m fine with that, and as I’ve mentioned, I think it’s important that I accept this situation and use the week-ends to decompress from the writing, keeping my circuits from overloading. But like a food junky who’ll eat even when he’s not hungry, I found myself reaching for the novel Sunday night. I really didn’t want to. Kinda forced myself, you know. The Simpsons was a repeat. Family Guy was a repeat. About the only good thing on TV was a Nature special on super-sized crocs. Watched that, and then, well, I had a look at the novel. Started reading from the beginning, and guess what happened. I didn’t like it at all. It sounded very blah.

Either one of two things happened here. One: The writing is very ordinary, and with the excitement of week one fizzled out, I’m seeing the passages for what they truly are – flat and just a step above the sketchy first draft they came from. Or two: I didn’t want to look at the novel because I was low energy and I really should have listened to my body and mind telling me to stick to the schedule. Being low energy I was lacking in desire, lacking in mindless faith, lacking in the mental fortitude needed to create something from nothing and maybe see the passages as they might eventually turn out after a year or so of slogging. Or three (I know I said there were only two possible explanations) … or three: both of the above. I knew heading into my second week-end that the work I’d started was just a beginning. I knew I’d be going back to page one to further improve the work, but I’d been full of zeal then and it was easy keeping my spirits up.

This is just the kind of crap I was afraid of. I don’t need a major excuse to shelve this project. The earth doesn’t need to shake beneath my feet for my dreams to come toppling down around me. I just need a tiny dose of lack of faith and my novel will be pulling away from me like it’s sitting on a little table at the end of a corridor and I’m trapped in a B-movie horror flic where that damn corridor just keeps getting longer and longer.


It’s Monday morning and I’m making a list. First, I’ll be going to my local Reno Depot to get me an outdoor light fixture and a drum of driveway sealer, and then I’m off to the auto parts to buy a regulator for the driver’s side window of the car. I may drink some beer while I’m working on these projects, but what I won’t do is come back to this laptop until I’m feeling a genuine urge to do so.

Entry 6

Apparently, there ain’t no point in shopping for a window regulator at an auto parts store, this according to the guy at Canadian Tire, the last place I called. They don’t bother carrying them. He advised me to go to a scrap yard, something I don’t want to consider for this job since it sounds like more trouble and money than it’s worth. If I find a matching door, I’ll still have to pay for it. And it’ll be a used door, so who knows how long the mechanism I need will last. Besides that, there are about a dozen tork screws I have to remove before I can extricate each regulator. Like I said; too much trouble just to save a couple of dollars. My time’s worth more than that. Instead, I ordered a new regulator from the dealer -- $140. When that comes in next week, I’ll deal with it then. Because I wasted all morning worrying about the car, I ended up not going to Reno Depot.

Once I’d realised my attempt to shake things up had hit a solid wall, I decided to continue with the novel, give it another go and see if it still sucked and if I was still paralysed with fear. With that new plot twist in mind I’d mentioned last week, I went for it, writing as if tackling a first draft. Speed writing, they call it. I can tell you right now, no one will ever see the new prose from yesterday, not as is anyway. It was meant for my eyes only, a sketch I could work from, rough as a carpenter’s doodle on the back of an old plank. It did serve its purpose, however, which was to help define the general shape of the first part of the book. Without that, I’d lose my way fast. So I’m happy… kinda. I haven’t given the new writing a read through yet.

Yesterday was also the day I decided to calculate the amount of time I’ll need to get a decent version of the book done. I know I’ve said I don’t work from word count, and I don’t, but a novel is only a novel after so many words. I’m just trying to plan ahead. I don’t want people to start seeing me as that guy who’s always been working on a novel. Anyway, bottom line is this: I’ll be noticeably greyer by the time this gets done. Oh well. I have to keep reminding myself how time flies, and how it’s wasted mostly because there’s this perception that the hours spent away from our jobs should be a time for rest. Highly successful people are on the go 24/7. Okay, that’s not me, but if I can manage my time more effectively, I’ll be happy.

Entry 7

(Same day as last entry… hours later, close to bedtime.)

Who’s a beginner novelist? I am that’s who. But so is everyone else who’s ever dreamed of writing a book. Even those nice ladies dumping their used Harlequins by the bag-full into the goodwill bins, who hate their husbands because they’re nothing like the template for the self-made man they’ve been studying for years, are beginner novelists. Even those predatory, I’ve-written-a-150 000-word-stroke-of-literary-genius-and-am-presently-hunting/seeking-agent-representation… yup, are beginners them too. Those poor bastard types, or is that typers, on their second, third, and fourth tomes… uh huh, beginners, as long as those tomes are collecting dust at the bottom of a closet, and destined to remain forever unbound by a professional operating heavy machinery, i.e., the guy pressing the buttons on the printing press console. We’re all beginners together! One big boat – a ship of fools where no one bothers to wonder out loud: What a strange coupling of words, what a strange pair these two make – beginner and novelist. It’s sick, really. Hey, if a bear shits in the woods, or if a tree falls in a forest, type of thing. Either that, or me and the Harlequin ladies are simple wannabes living in a very private and lonely world as we haven’t actually completed a novel and those other folks without representation but done manuscripts are the true novelists but who gives a fuck, anyway? Point is; I’m not sure which I could live with.

I clipped an ad for a job years ago asking for help editing a novel. At the time I figured I had the skills to be a really good editor, so I answered the ad and took down the address. This may sound like I’m about to tell a story, and I am, but it’ll be based in fact.

My heart was sinking as I drove through the night looking for the address I’d been given over the phone. It wasn’t fair. I’d been so excited all day. With each left or right turn, the streets were getting more run down. I remember I called my wife once I was certain I wouldn’t be veering off into a better neighbourhood any time soon. I’d called her to describe what I was seeing. I could just as easily have told her life sucked and nothing ever goes my way and I just wanted to come home. I’d lost again, in other words, this was not looking like it was going to be my big break (earning a living sitting at a desk and smoking a pipe.). Freaking natural reaction for a writer who’s just decided he wants to be a writer. All fantasy, all the time.

I finally found the place and parked the car. First thing I noticed out on the sidewalk was that there wasn’t enough light for a person to feel safe. Regardless, I was going to go through the paces. “No. At least go up and see what he has to say,” my wife had insisted. Even then, she’d had her feet more firmly planted than I had my own.

Anyway, I rang the appropriate address, waited for the buzzer to sound, and then stepped into an entryway as dark as hell, a creepy looking staircase like a giant cellar root in front of me, just like in the movies, everything about the shadows telling me to turn and run. I climbed, my friends, like I was climbing to the gallows, totally down on the whole thing so far. I don’t know what I’d expected, a manor in Westmount? I certainly hadn’t expected an old guy to show up at the door, asking me in as he clutched at the open flaps of his robe. Again, before you start assuming what was going on, the old fart was fully dressed under the robe. He told me he’d been about to take a bath. Bullshit. He was offering an excuse because he was always in that ratty robe and he’d forgotten to take it off. I later found out that this is the preferred attire for beginner novelists. Mine has cigarette burns from when I’ve been on a roll, too engrossed to flick the ash.

He was about ninety years old, eighty if you want to blame the shadows for deepening the wrinkles in his face. He had long hair and enormous, fuzzy sideburns, as if he shaved just enough so his paltry meals (cat food) wouldn’t get wasted on his whiskers. He seemed to not trust me as much as I didn’t trust him. He’d written a political thriller, and it had taken years and years and years to complete, and he couldn’t give it to just anyone to read. It was about at that moment I noticed one of his windows was broken and taped over. As he continued telling me about his thriller, I started feeling sorry for him, too old to be living alone in a scummy apartment building with a window that lets in the cold. I kid you not, I almost offered to come back and replace the fucking thing.

Story’s done. Not much happened after that. I left with a few pages he’d given me to look over. I trashed them as soon as I got home, used his broken window and ratty bathrobe in the jokes I told about my strange experience. I had everyone in stitches.

Point of this little aside is that I had the chance at that moment to turn my back on this silly dream and I didn’t.

Tomorrow, I’ll read what I wrote on Monday. See if I can do anything with it.

Entry 8

It’s Friday night. Watched the cartoon movie Over the Hedge. Not bad. Not bad at all. Still haven’t looked at my scribbles. I’m feeling good about Monday morning, though.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Ah, the temptation to give it all up. It's too hard, I'm no good, I should do something more useful. At the same time, the compulsion to write, even when you promise yourself you'll give yourself a break and get more balance in your life.

I relate! Keep at it, Tony. You have real talent.

P.S. I felt sorry for the old guy. Do you think he ever finished his book?

Sat Oct 27, 04:00:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

I love these posts, Tony. Yes, keep going! You have to!

Sat Oct 27, 04:51:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Thanks for reading along, guys. I feel like I'm working things out for myself. I can do this. Yes. Thanks.

Sat Oct 27, 09:22:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

There's a point where it's too early to reread what you've already written. After that point it's okay. I only have personal experience with the former. All my novels have chugged along nicely until I've gone, 'hmm, lets just have a read of what I've got so far' and then they've died. I think this accounts for the success of nanowrimo. You don't have time to be critical. And you force yourself past any point where you have second thoughts.
When I couldn't write short stories anymore, I started making them from flashes that I'd stitch together. My idea for the novel I'm trying to write now is to stitch together some short stories.
i don't have the attention span for anything different.
In fact, I might have to aim to stitch together flashes.
This year during Nanowrimo. I'm going to pick different parts of Toronto and write a flash set there. We'll see if it adds up to anything.
Your ruminations are helping my own ruminations, Tony!

Sun Oct 28, 01:04:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Glad my ruminations are helpful, Andrew! I was afraid I was sounding like a nutjob. I'm hoping that by releasing all my anxieties early on, I'll be an old pro by Christmas.

Sun Oct 28, 03:39:00 pm GMT-4  

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