How to Complete a Novel
Are you a hermit, gone to live on your mountaintop? Do you have unlimited time, a trust fund, and a significant other willing to appear for scheduled conjugal visits, then disappear until next time you send out the passenger pigeon from your mountaintop? If so, this post isn’t for you.
However, if you happen to be more like me, you should keep reading. My time to write is constrained by the many facets of my life. I used to be consumed by resentment that I could not allocate the time I wanted, when I wanted, to whatever I wanted. Years of frustration gave way to simple acceptance: I am not constrained by the richness and variety of my life. I am liberated by it! My job exercises my intellect and my compassion far more than either could be if I were alone on my mountaintop. Home ownership has given me responsibility and forced me to discover the joy in caring for a place that is my own. My marriage has brought me clarity, comfort, laughter, and a shared history that grows more evocative as time passes. My writing has given me access to noumenal, intransitive truths. I love all of these facets, but that doesn’t make it easy to find and maintain balance.
When we first moved into our home, I was overwhelmed. The sheer space was magnitudes bigger than any place we had lived before; mind you, we bought conservatively, but even a small house is a big thing when compared to a one room apartment! I felt like I couldn’t balance all of the chores, and the yard work, and the grocery shopping, and the dog walks, and my job, and my marriage, and the fact that ceiling fans somehow gather monstrous amounts of dust even when they are in use. My stress was squeezing the companionship and fun out of my marriage, guttering my inner light, and stealing energy I could have used to write. My husband diagnosed the root of my problem: I was trying to do everything, all of the time. I also wasn’t writing, which has an inverse relationship with my mood. We came up with a plan of action that divided what needed to be done into manageable blocks of work. We closed off the section of the house we never even use, and he began to help me with chores I had always done alone simply because they were trivial in a small apartment (floors! Who knew there would be so much of them in a house?!). I have even learned how to let inessential things slide. I trained myself to recognize what needs to be done, and to do only that instead of following some preconceived list that I had in my mind. I let the situation dictate what amount of cleaning is done rather than stick to a rigid set of tasks. You may be skeptical, but I promise that you and your family will be OKAY even if you don’t steam clean the rugs every week.
The same sort of battles occur in every facet of life. Work is an expanding protoplasm of unending tasks, but if you are firm in separating work from home, you will prevent it from overtaking your entire life. Say no to getting work emails on your phone. Say no to weekend ‘extras.’ Say no to late evenings that prevent you from exercising. Will you be on the fast track to the top of the corporate ladder? Probably not. But is that what you want? If it is, you and the hermit are both reading the wrong blog! Do the best that you can while you are there, practice kindness in the face of stress (easier said than done, but try!), and enjoy the time you get to spend with people you might otherwise have never known. Then clock out, head home, and focus on the other parts of your life. Your writing, for instance!
And now, I gracefully segue into the Third Tip in the “How To Complete a Novel” series…
If you’re married or have room mates, you will need to negotiate for dedicated and uninterrupted time to spend working on your novel. Begin by opening a dialog about the realistic time expenditure writing will require, and acknowledge that some of the time you will put into the novel will have to be taken from time you would have otherwise spent together. If you know you can only write when it is quiet, discuss sound management techniques. Ask for permission to ask for help if you fall behind in your household chores. Note that I said ask for help, not demand! Do not allow yourself to ask for help to the extent that it becomes an ongoing sloughing off of your duties onto someone else. The people you love and live with have dreams of their own; don’t steal time from their pursuits unless you really must, and then make sure you return the favor. No matter what chore exchange you negotiate, make sure you leave enough time to strengthen the bonds that gave you the gift of this person in your life. Sure, you can dream alone, but it’s much more satisfying to dream together.
Check back soon for another post in my ‘How to Complete A Novel’ series!