We’ve been together for years. While I’d written other novels before during the high-pressured flurry of NaNoWriMo, I had never studied writing craft so deeply and applied it so faithfully to my own work.
We grew up together, my story and I. As I worked on it, I began to think of myself as a writer, as a full-on novelist. The novel itself unfurled from a tiny idea nugget into a solid, multilevel plot with fascinating, fully-realized characters. Interesting ideas flashed bright and flamed out. Subplots erupted, threatened to take over, and ultimately urged growth throughout the storyline. A character once banished to placeholder status is now a key challenger and ally. Along the torturous, unmarked journey, the story and I worked together, delighted and frustrated, but always committed.
Characters were upfront, opinionated, and insistent. A bossy character told me that I was writing the story wrong and dictated the opening scenes. (She was right. Eleanor is always right until she learns better.) A character who originally refused to share the terrible night that ruined his life finally got fed up with my prodding; the happy, rewarding life that he has lived is the aftermath of tragedy. A key secondary character left the story entirely, telling me that she would do better in another novel.
The biggest, meanest antagonist showed me the light side of the mean guy. No mean guy considers himself to be evil — everything he does is intended for good. He revealed his soft, pale underbelly and I saw how grievously wrong things had turned out for him, how lost and defeated he lives, and how he aches to accomplish something lasting, powerful, and important no matter what it takes, no matter the casualties.
I learned point of view and voice, practicing first person and third person in successive drafts, deepening my appreciation for their opportunities and limits . Reluctantly, I admitted and adjusted my enthusiastic reliance on adverbs and florid description. I studied continuously and used what I learned. More times than I want to remember, I stunned a teacher by thanking them for blowing up and progressing my craft and my story.
This novel has been thrashed out and discussed with others. It has also been read by many generous, discerning early readers. Various versions have been workshopped and shared with critique groups. Right now, the novel and I are in deep revision and in the hands of an adept, smart, supportive critique partner.
All summer, I wondered if I should do NaNoWriMo. Ultimately, I concluded this novel came first, that my time was better invested in finalizing the last wondrous version of this terrific story. My heart’s pleas that I love NaNoWriMo, learn so much, and cherish winning for the past ten years lost to hard-headed practicality, logic, and good sense. I was resolved to do the smart thing no matter how niggling ideas writhed doubt.
Last Friday, my novel gently and firmly sat me down.
We need to talk.
Here’s what I remember:
You know and I know that it’s time to move on.
The story told me that our raucous, wild, amazing time of imagining, creating, and developing is over. It’s not that it wasn’t great and that we didn’t have fun and that we didn’t create good work or that we never play again. No, no, no, far from that. It’s just that right now it’s time for us to put everythhing we have into editing and polishing. We’re still together; it’s just a new phase in our relationship. Here’s an example: you and I both know that you shove in the word “desperate” way too often — come on now, it’s safe to admit what we both know is true — and we can change that. What’s more, there are so many other ways to tighten, heighten, and improve the wonderful story that you can write. We’ve grown, we’ve learned, we’ve had a wonderful time. Now, let’s take all that power to the next level.
The story blew out a deep breath. Wow, that was hard. You okay over there? It’s not that I don’t love you; I do. It’s just that it’s time for a change. Oh, no, you’re okay. Take deep breaths, in and out, in and out.
I was hyperventilating.
When I could, I told the story I was afraid.
What does this new phase mean? What happens now? What if it doesn’t work? We’ve been together for so long….I thought we’d always be together….
My story broke up with me.
It was the best break-up ever, handled quietly and privately when we both were fresh, receptive and present with one another.
It was also firm, final, irrefutable. Creation is done and now our energy is best invested in sharing the story with the world.
My story wants new readers and different hands. I will do all that I can do to make sure the story gets them. I love what we have accomplished together, begrudge the story nothing.
The story is right — and is exulting my coming around. I recognize we will forever be a part of one another’s lives with our own special memories and inside jokes, but this particular time in our relationship is over.
The story knew before I did — and gave me all the hints and gentle nudges so I could see it for myself. I did see, but I didn’t want to change because I had no idea what came next or if it would work. I didn’t want to hurt the story’s feelings by letting go too soon.
In breaking up with me and insisting on new partners, my story has given us a tremendous gift. We are both of us ready for a new stage in our relationship, for more freedom and different experiences. This doesn’t mean that we’re perfect, absolutely ready to move on, but we’ll never create anything great until we leap into the unknown without a safety net.
Ultimately, it was the story stepping forward and saying it’s not you, it’s me. I had to disagree. It’s both of us. I will always treasure our time together, cherish the wobbles and glories, and treasure this story as the best possible starter novel.
We’re both moving on — together, in a new way.