A Fiction-Writing Mama Stares Down Summer Break

Photo by Eye-the world through my I, via Flickr

I’m working right now on the last (I hope!) major revision of my novel. I tend to be self-conscious about my novel. Its characters are so precious to me, so real, so alive, that exposing them to the real world feels like a high-risk venture. As if someone might judge me based upon their story.

Which, of course, is kind of the point. You know how in English class you used to gnash your teeth when teachers forced you to analyze themes and symbols? You wanted to shoot off your mouth and say the author was just writing a story, and never intended all that other stuff to be read into it. Well…you would be wrong. Maybe not every story has a deeper layer–maybe some of them are just for entertainment–but the good ones, the ones that stay with you all have a point. In this book I have a point (or twelve) I want to get across, but I’ve seen enough proselytizing masquerading as fiction that I’m pretty obsessed with making sure I don’t do it.

I used to get lost in my characters. I would become dissatisfied with my life, and spend all my time pretending to be my characters walking around through my day. It was not a good thing. I finally had to take a hiatus from fiction in order to get my head straight about the border between reality and imagination.

I have a much healthier relationship with my characters now, but they still have the power to preoccupy my brain power. At the best of times, a story is a living thing, burning its way out of you. All you have to do is plant your butt at the computer, and the words pour out for hours. That doesn’t mean they pour out without rewrites. You still jump around in a 400-page document, strengthening connections, incorporating ideas that came to you later, adding scenes and–more painfully–deleting them. But it’s a fire nonetheless, a fire that consumes time and attention and–hopefully–blank pages on a screen.

This is where I am right now. And it’s awesome. But also excruciating. Because my life does not allow me to plant my butt at the computer and vomit verbiage (or more accurately, revisions) onto the screen for hours on end. In the absence of that freedom, my brain is constantly problem solving in the background, so that when I do get the chance to sit down with a keyboard, I can just write.

There was a lot of “background work” going on this weekend, between family gatherings, extended family gatherings, house cleaning and family game nights. All of which I enjoyed, but still the novel tugs at the heart strings, clamoring for the attention I can’t give. Yesterday morning I got up at 4:55 a.m., went running, and sat at the computer anticipating a heavenly hour and a half to work before the family got up…and then remembered I had to write a blog post. :/

Today, summer break officially begins. Summer in our household means daily chores, weekly field trips, and curtailed writing time. I have so many things I want to do with the kids this summer–craft projects, outdoor play, picnics, some religious formation. Cleaning and organization projects.

And I have nonfiction projects jumping up and down and wagging their fingers at me. I haven’t been ignoring them, but the time has come when I have to prioritize them over the novel, and I’m dreading it. I don’t mind working on them, but I know how hard it is to get this kind of momentum going on a novel, and I don’t want to lose it. I want to finish this thing and start sending it out.

So life goes on, a juggling act as always. Only for the next three months, there will be more players on hand.