I am fully engaged in the process of not writing a novel.
That was the lede to a blog post I wrote thirteen years ago, give or take a day or two.
I’d started writing Eleanor four years before that. When I look back at these old blog posts, I wonder sometimes how I managed to keep plugging away at that book. It wasn’t easy: there were enormous gaps of time during which I didn’t write because I couldn’t make my fingers type a word; I wrote and rewrote the same three chapters for years; I spun the story off into directions it had no business going, then reeled it back in, deleted thousands of words, started again.
Now and then I just want to drag the manuscript file into the trash and click ‘Empty’ so that I can stop being so disappointed in myself.
Oh, young Jason. So theatrical. So melodramatic.
I wrote that post in 2005. It would be seven or eight years before I figured out what Eleanor was supposed to be. I often wonder: had I known what I was in for back then, would I have kept going? But I’m glad I didn’t know. Reading that old post—
I want to know how long this doldrums will last. I want to turn off everything else in my life so that I can turn this on again.
—I am certain, absolutely certain, I’d have shoved the novel into the trash and quit. Probably quit writing altogether, not just that particular project.
But I didn’t know what I was in for. Sometimes being short-sighted is a gift.
In 2013, I did shove Eleanor into a drawer—and then I started over, preserving my characters and little else. By then I’d learned how to finish a project, having finished several others during some sanity breaks from Eleanor, and I finished this one, too.
My daughter is learning a valuable lesson in school: Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody fails. Learning from both makes you a success. She’s shown interest lately in writing books, and I helped her write one—Learn How to Write Books—that she’s very proud of. She interviewed me for her book, asking what it was like to write, and I told her the truth: Sometimes it’s harder to write than to not write. Sometimes you fail for a really long time, but it’s not really failing. You’re just learning slowly, sometimes the same lessons again and again, until one day it all just makes sense.
Young Jason felt like a failure when he wasn’t writing a word. But middle-aged Jason—I’m forty now, does that make me middle-aged?—is grateful for those quiet spaces between stages. Awake in the World is finished; the next book is drafted and with my editor; there’s a shapeless new project on my desk. I’m taking advantage of the lull not to write, but to play Carcassonne with my family, to snuggle and read with Squish, to see horror movies with Felicia, to immerse myself in a new job that’s rich with new challenges.
The doldrums aren’t always bad. Sometimes they’re the best part.