NOT ANOTHER TV DAD
★ ★ ★ ★
WRITING A NOVEL
By CL Bledsoe
Writing a novel is like teaching a bear how to play darts: neither of you will be allowed in the bar again.
That’s not quite right.
Writing a novel is like asking your cousin to slow dance while everyone is on fire.
Writing a novel is like winning a marathon with your shoes untied.
I give up.
I wrote a novel last year. It was the first I’d written in several years. I used to write them every few months—or at least a novella. Some, I published, some were just bizarre. I eventually published some of those.
But I hadn’t written one in forever. There were a few reasons for this. Writing a novel, I think, is an act of hope. Even if you’re writing a very inaccessible one, you’re still trying to make a connection. You’re putting this part of yourself out into the world and hoping that it connects with someone. It’s a purely metaphorical endeavor; there’s a pretty good chance you won’t actually get any real feedback, or at least not much, from anyone who—if anyone–reads it. But you do it anyway.
I do get feedback occasionally. Someone will reach out to find an out-of-print book and say something nice. Someone will message me on social media and say something nice. Equally likely, they’ll message me to say something they didn’t like, which is still a connection, but the annoying kind, like the person who corners you at a party to tell you about their latest infection.
Most often, I’m approached after a reading. You have to sift through these. Sometimes, it’s just someone being polite, or worse yet, it’s someone who feels sorry for you because no one else is talking to you. Or it’s another writer who’s hoping for reciprocation. But sometimes, you get an honest connection with someone who seems to have genuinely felt something in your work. When I go to a reading, I try to say something nice about the readers, afterward. If I can. Sometimes, there’s nothing to say, except Better Luck Next Time, which I don’t say.
The novel I wrote this year was terrible. It was sci-fi, sort of. A comedy. The kind of thing I’d imagine seeing in a movie that’s a sequel to a much better movie but with unknown actors this time around because the big names from the first movie wanted too much money. I was going for slapstick, but I kept veering into drama, which is how I felt. I could say that I had high hopes, but that’s not true. I was just trying to get through it. Much like life, sometimes.
Writing a novel is an act of hope, and I’d run dry. I’ve been publishing for twenty years, writing for another ten or more before that. There was a period of time where it really felt like things might happen. I’ve always aspired to write comedy, though I’ve never been able to do it consistently. I can crank out the odd story—or used to—but only rarely. What I basically have done is get a few publishers’ or readers’ hopes up and then not be able to deliver consistently. As much as I’d like to be the “funny” writer, it only comes when it comes.
I was trying too hard. I think one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn—am still learning—about writing. You can’t force it and get good results. I tend to force things. I tend to push ahead. If I have some task to do, I like to get it all done right now, instead of breaking it up. With writing, I’m good at maintaining a daily quota—so I am breaking it up—but I will definitely try to force that quota to just get through it. Which means a lot more work in the revision stage.
It’s frustrating. I’m rapidly passing through middle age on the way to being Old. My life—if I’m lucky—is more than half over. I wanted to accomplish so much more than I have. So, it seems like writing a daily quota, pushing through a novel, or forcing it are good ideas.
Writing a novel is like trying to teach a cat to do tricks. It takes a lot of patience with very little hope of real success. I guess it depends on how you define success. A paycheck would be nice. For an amount I wouldn’t be embarrassed to share with someone (not that I’d ever talk about actual money with anyone. That’s gauche.).
I used to be better at this, but I’m out of practice. I used to be fine with the idea of typing away for weeks on something and then putting it out there for nothing. Another line in a bio no one reads.
I lost my hope. But it wasn’t really about writing. It was about other areas of my life, which writing has traditionally been a refuge from. I got tired. The fear is, of course, once you stop, what next? Like the Fugazi song says, “It feels so good laying down, I won’t get up again.” But that means they’ve won. (Who is “they” exactly? Fuck if I know, but I hate them for all the trouble they’re always causing.)
There is something to be gained from the act of doing something creative, even if it doesn’t succeed. There’s something to be gained from the mental exercise of creating art, even if the end result isn’t that hot. Routine. A structured life. There is merit to the act of writing, without considering the result.
My novel was terrible (and understand that I’m not being falsely modest ) but at least I was writing. Am writing. My novel was terrible, but my life was terrible for a little while, there, a few years—like a lot of us—and my novel helped me cope. My novel was terrible and maybe I’ll adapt it into something better someday .
Writing a novel is an act of hope. And I hope the next one will be better.
CL Bledsoe is the author of sixteen books, most recently the poetry collection Trashcans in Love and the flash fiction collection Ray’s Sea World. His poems, stories, and nonfiction have been published in hundreds of journals and anthologies including New York Quarterly, The Cimarron Review, Contrary, Story South, and The Arkansas Review. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize fifteen times, Best of the Net three times, and has had two stories selected as Notable Stories of the Year by Story South‘s Million Writers Award. Originally from a rice and catfish farm in the Mississippi River Delta area of Arkansas, Bledsoe lives with his daughter in northern Virginia. He blogs at NotAnotherTVDad.blogspot.com