‘I imagined having a book of my own in the window of that cathedral. One day, I wanted to be able to point and say, “I wrote that.” I wrote stage and screen plays and enjoyed some success, but it was a novel I desired. So the novel was always there, the Ithaca that for more than twenty years called to me… and that I finally wrote.’
I recently came across David Hogan‘s beautifully written article about what inspired him to pen his first novel, The Last Island, and the bittersweet revelation that his inspiration had outlived the thing that awakened it in him. It struck me as serendipitous that I should be reading his thoughts at the same moment that I was seriously reconsidering the commitment I made to writing a novel of my own.
By now, I have made two announcements that I was planning to begin writing a novel of my own, and here is a third announcement. The first time I announced, I set some extraordinarily unrealistic goals for what were perhaps the wrong stories—at least for now. After lots of thinking, I laid out a more realistic strategy for writing something that I felt better prepared to accomplish, which I discussed in my most recent announcement.
The March 2015 release date was probably doable, and I think the story is a good one. However, even at the time that I announced, there were still a lot of unresolved questions in my mind. Perhaps the most important among these was, “I believe that I can do this, but should I do this?”
The answer came to me after a great deal of deliberation, and that answer is no. Or at least not this way. So why the change of heart? Am I giving up on being a novelist? Was it because of nerves? Am I just a casual—a wannabe writer?
There is a lot to be taken away from Hogan’s “Reflection,” but one thing in particular stood out to me. Hogan describes, however briefly, his writing career in the twenty years that intervened between discovering his desire to be a novelist and the publication of The Last Island, his travels, marriage, starting a family. What I discovered in just a few short, sweet paragraphs was a sense of hope that I think I had been missing before.
My desire to write and publish my first novel as soon as possible, next year, now, yesterday even, was driven by a sense that I wasn’t quite doing enough, not accomplishing anything tangible, not truly being productive. So I decided to slam out a novel, because surely that would prove to myself that I was really a writer and that I was actually getting things done.
Money was a concern. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have more of it, and sooner rather than later. Respect factored into the equation. You are the legitimate article if you can say you’ve been published, right? Are you really a writer if you write things that aren’t novels? Relationships were an issue. In the United States, we confuse who we are with what we do. If you are an aspiring writer, someone who has not seen some cash come in from all the work they do, then it looks to those around you like you are doing nothing—chasing a dream that is at best unrealistic and at worst deeply selfish. And if you seem to be doing nothing then to many you are nothing. I am no longer in a number of relationships.
A novel is a goal, one that I have every intention of accomplishing more than once, certainly more than twice—as many times as I can. I have other goals, though, lots of them. I want to write short stories, I want to change the world, I want to collaborate with other writers, I want to become exceptionally good at marketing my work, and I want to be one of the very best in my field. Writing novels is one goal among many. It is a poisonous trap to let the pursuit of a single accomplishment define who you are and whether or not you should be okay with that person. I am more than the sum of my accomplishments, more than my goals and aspirations, and to give in to thinking otherwise is to set myself up to forever chase my self-esteem through the passing approval of other people.
In a way, I am also the “drowsy commuter in an ill-fitted suit, dreamy and impatient and uncertain” that Hogan spoke of. But he did and was far more than nothing in those twenty years before his novel. He is a writer now that he has a novel publish, but he was a writer before that, novel or not. Life happened to him, and so did his plays for the screen and the stage. And eventually the novel did happen for him, as well. I will make the novels happen for me, too.
I have learned so much over the last several months, perhaps more than I have in whole years past, and the more I learn the more I find that I don’t know. Rushing to publish a manuscript is of no benefit to me, to my writing, or to my potential to discover new things about how to make a novel truly great—and that is the real accomplishment, not just simply to have my name on some forgotten book cover. There is very little use publishing a bad book, especially if I am being motivated by ideas about what it means to be a writer that are ultimately harmful to me and my work.
Every short story I write and every post I promote comes with new a lesson for me to learn. These are moments for self-teaching and self-discovery, and I would be remiss not to take advantage of them; to challenge myself to learn as much as I can. That is a more important goal by far than publishing a novel.
So am I writing a book?
Yes. Always. And someday you’ll get to read it. Can I pin down a production deadline or tell you when someday might be? No, not yet and I’m not worried about it. What will the novel be about? I think I’ll keep the answer to that one to myself. At least for a little longer.
(Roggen Wulf, 2014)