These are exciting times. I’m writing a novel. I’m not “working” on a novel, I’m not “restructuring” my novel. I’m not doing some interminably long project, I’m writing a novel. I’ve always deeply felt the limitations to me writing a novel. All of these limitations were real, but underneath my issues was a willingness to submit to those limitations. I’ve always said I *can’t* write after work. I need long stretches of time to work on a novel. So this year, I had the opportunity to stay home for a month. I spent most of that time laying around and procrastinating, but every day I wrote 1,000 words. I found that it took me anywhere from no time to ten hours to get writing, but once I started writing, it took me about an hour to an hour and a half to write the 1,000 words.
My goal before I went back to work was to establish an emotional investment in the project. I have about three beginnings of rewrites on the same novel, but for each attempt it was me trying to figure out what to do. I was pushing forward with sheer will but not much joy or emotional investment. During my time off, I played with it and figured out how I needed to shift perspectives so that I would have a challenge in the narrative and something to learn about the characters *while I was rewriting the established story* (I did NOT want to be starting over, I wanted to be building.) I reached that wonderful union with the work, and it was partially about releasing the story I was telling before and really thinking about what is the story I’d want to tell now.
I’m back at work now and I am fully invested in the novel. I’m invested from a personal goal perspective (I’ve wanted to complete a novel for as long as I can remember–since 1995 when I started writing my first novel manuscript). I’m invested from a story perspective (I’ve got characters who are angry and characters who are pregnant and characters who can no longer bear children–so much to say about that). I’m invested from a process perspective (What can I achieve if I release control? What discipline can I gain from surrendering to the process? What can I complete if I decide I am going to find the key to getting it done and then apply that secret again and again and again?).
All that investment has given me progress. And I can honestly say, I don’t care. I don’t care what this story turns out to be. I submit myself to it and will not impose my will upon it. I don’t care how it comes to live, I only care that it does live as a whole and complete entity. I don’t demand that it be “great,” speculative, or “deep.” I don’t care what the content of the novel says about me or what genre I fit in, I only care that the content allows me to come home and grind out 1,000 words a day. I’ve always said that I can’t write a night, but now I do. I write while my daughter does her homework. She does her daily practice and I do mine. She’s building herself as a thinker and a student. I am developing myself as a writer and a novelist. I am calm about the outcome, I am insistent on completion, and suddenly, I *know* that I will finish this novel.
I’m engaging with this novel as one component of my larger commitment to my development as a writer and my honoring of my gifts as an artist. It’s not about *this* novel, it’s about my developing body of work. I am simply a writer at work. I saw a recent video with Tracee Ellis Ross that sums it up well: “The fantasy that propels you through your twenties… it was necessary, you needed it. As you start go get older, it’s about reconciling the fantasy with reality and still maintaining a vision for your life, so that you’re going towards what you want while still incorporating and folding in the reality of life’s experience.”
I am standing at that nexus: from the writer in her 20s who went on writing trips all over the world, to the writer approaching 40 who buckles down at home while working a job and raising a child.
Onward in the quest to reconcile fantasy with reality so that the best of both influence the now!
Be well. Be love(d).
Kiini Ibura Salaam
Works-in-Progress Reading at the Sackett
In two Sundays (March 24), please join me, Liza Jesse Peterson, and Camille Goodison at The Sackett for a reading of works-in-progress. The idea of reading a work-in-progress makes me itch, but I know and understand it’s just because: 1) it’s not yet ego-approved; 2) but… but… but it’s not done yet; 3) it feels a little like undressing–it’s one thing to share thoughts about process, but it’s another thing to show something “in progress”, BUT all that is about me and none of that is about the work, so I will be sharing a chapter from my novel-in-progress “Fate.” Please come and enjoy the new!
Long Hidden Anthology: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History
I’m participating in an anthology project. It will feature stories from the margins of speculative history, each taking place between 1400 and the early 1900s and putting a speculative twist—an element of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or the unclassifiably strange—on real past events. Read the TOC, it’s a great collection of writers. If you have any ideas of a historical moment you want me to tackle, please let me know! (Email me on FB or at firstname.lastname@example.org)