On Dreaming & Fatigue
I’ve been working on my first novel for a solid three years now, though I wrote a scene for it back in 2003 when I was working on my Bachelors Degree at San Francisco State University. At the time, I had no idea what that one scene would become, what it would birth. I just knew I wasn’t the writer I needed to be to make it something more, so I transcribed it to my laptop and the file pretty much lay untouched for years.
And then it happened in 2007—that night so common to writers who are kept awake by voices, while lying abed in that place between drifting and discomfiture, that lone neglected scene revealed itself to me as a novel. Hours of dreaming later, I whispered this new world into my still sleeping husband’s ears.
Since then, I’ve put everything into my novel. My history, my experience, my dreams. My novel has been written, rewritten, imagined, forgotten, formed and transformed. Every sentence is a struggle. I write. Revise. Revise again. I ask: What am I writing about and why in this place? How is my character being challenged? Transformed? Does the aesthetic of the novel reflect something more about the piece as a whole? Is this story too plot-driven? Is there enough plot? What about the voice? Is it consistent? Disjointed? Should this be in third-person or first-person—and what the heck is second-person anyhow?
It’s a painful progress. It should be. And I love it. Most of the time.
Don’t get me wrong. I love writing. I’m alive when I write, but I’m also miserable. Tortured. And at the end of three solid hours of writing, I may only have a few paragraphs to show for my time, and I won’t know if those paragraphs, sentences or words will even make the final cut.
That’s when novel fatigue strikes—that restlessness that settles into a writer’s lower belly when the end of a piece seems improbable. When that particular malady weighs me down, I sleep my novel and work on something else—it’s always smart to have several projects in the works. But my novel is always whispering, waiting. She visits me in the late hours of the night, and in the morning, my body bruised from fevered thrashings, her breath is still on my brow. And when my pen finds its way to the end of a poem or short story, that ever allusive feeling of accomplishment allows me to return to my novel refreshed.
But lately, I’ve been questioning whether I ought to just finish my novel already, quality aside, and get it out of the way for more important, more lucrative projects. After all, as a kind, but honest professor once told me, first novels likely go unpublished and end up sitting in a drawer somewhere. Indeed, first novels are often self-indulgent and immature, due to lack of life experience. Perhaps my fledgling attempts are too flawed for the fantastical. It would be wise to finish a completed draft, accept it as a learning experience, ie: failure, and move on.
But what if I don’t want to move on? What if I don’t want to stop dreaming?
When my completed novel is rejected, I fear that everything good and youthful and optimistic about me will die.
Perhaps I dread the completion of my fledgling first novel for fear it will never live up to my grande (and I write ‘grande’ with an ‘e’ because, yes, they are magnificent) expectations.
With my novel in progress, I’m all dreams. I’m a bride before the big day, and my novel is the perfect white-white wedding dress, unmarred by rejection, destined for the biggest, most fantastical day of my life. For now, I can envision my walk down the aisle—perhaps there’ll be trumpets and an electric guitarist. For now, I can daydream about the reception, where everyone will stand and toast and smile. I have no idea of tipped over champagne flutes, nor drunken guests. Yes, for now—so long as I don’t finish my novel, it need never be rejected, and I can still—dream.
I can’t decide if that makes me sad or happy. But for now, I’m all dreams.
And so I toil on.