She phrased the question like she was asking me about a person. The personification felt particularly apt since this book is like her sibling, another being that I have chosen in my extreme hubris to bring into the world, whether the world needs it or not.
Most times when people outside of my circle of writing friends ask me about my book, I try to smile and sound enthusiastic. “How’s the novel going?” they ask. “It’s great!” I say and hope they don’t ask a follow-up because I might just break down over a particularly difficult edit that I agonized over for hours the day before. No one really wants to hear that.
But today in the car I was taken off-guard. My daughter has hit her stride of pre-teen solipsism. She rarely acknowledges that I exist in any way other than to serve her immediate needs. I didn’t expect that question from her, and I was surprisingly touched when she asked it. Perhaps that is why I didn’t just say, “Great!” and move on to the next thing.
Instead, I paused and I thought about it. I have been working on this novel at various levels for quite a while now. I wrote the first feeble pages when my kids were in pre-school, and I was stealing moments during afternoon naps to sketch out the situation of my fictional family. I had put away my creative writing self years before to be a literary scholar, and that early writing felt like waking up from the cryofreeze.
Since I wrote those beginning pages I have done many other things: I finally finished that PhD that originally sidetracked my fiction writing. I ran two Boston marathons and hundreds of training miles. I packed about 2500 lunches for my kids. I suffered the loss of dear, dear loved ones. I made new friends. I moved. I cooked and vacuumed and walked my dog again and again and again. Through it all, there was this novel with me, needling me, taunting me, waiting for me to bring it to life. And now, here I am in the murky middle of the Grub Street Novel Incubator writing and revising and rethinking everything.
“Well,” I said to my daughter, “It’s really hard. It’s so much harder than I ever thought it would be.”
“Why?” she asked.
And then it hit me. “Because I really want it to be good,” I said. When I started all those years ago, I just wanted to realize a long-held dream of writing a novel. But all this work has taken me from just trying to write a novel, any novel, to wanting it to be good. The Incubator has pushed me to reevaluate my original ideas and to question the assumptions I brought with me to the process of novel-writing. I have broken my book apart and have stood over it, trying to figure out what pieces to put back together. My graveyard of dead darlings is vast and deep and includes toddlers, priests, and an $8 pineapple. So, I guess I have to admit it. I really want it to be good, and that is so goddamn hard to do.
So, how’s my book? Right now, it’s a mess. But it’s getting better.