Dancing on the hill of the dead

The creative process is a curious ebb and flow, a seductive dance with the part of the self least known, least attached to identity. Most days you don’t have it; you slog through because you must, knowing your ideas are paralyzed by impotence, enervated, without a substance you can’t quite find to round them out. And then there are days when everything rushes forth like crystalline waves, the ideas profound and the language exacting, sharp. Of course you prefer the latter, but you cannot possibly get there without the former.

I woke up today and the new novel is at about 65,000 words. There’s at least another 15K words somewhere inside, undrafted, and I imagine this new project will fall a bit short of the 100K-word mark, which was the tally on the previous novel. What’s strange is when I undertook this new project I imagined it to be much larger than The Novel Paradox, my previous novel. The ideas were bigger, the landscape was bigger, the characters were bigger. But essentially it’s likely to be a shorter project, in terms of volume.

That’s not to say that after the first revision I won’t encounter some substantial holes that need attention, which will almost certainly add to the length. Or that the first draft itself is just one large hole that must be plucked from the Earth and tossed angrily down some dark, fiery recess. But these large projects are like children: we never know what they’re going to look like or how they’re going to behave when they’re born. We look on amazed as they take shape.

Paradox was written longhand in notebooks during the day while at work or whenever I was away from the typing machine, whole passages sometimes written twice by hand before sitting down to typeset them. This new novel is much different; whereas with Paradox I’d go through about one notebook each month for the two years it took to write the novel, this project largely unfolds outside the physical space of the notebook. The story unfurls like jazz, an improvised process on the machine, without the organic feel of a human interacting with a pen and paper. I’m wondering how that’s going to affect the reading of the novel and what it’s going to mean when comparing the two projects from a reader’s standpoint.

In the interim, I create. Some days I’m tormented, challenged to get through a paragraph of acceptable content, while other days I spray out whole pages easily, a battle tested artist fighting off all challengers, a statue atop the hill of my dead. I do not concern myself too much with how the novel’s going to read, because first I have to write the thing, and second, it’s not guaranteed that anyone will ever read it. What’s important is the creative process, that dance with the self unseen, that self I try so desperately to make the real me.

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