An Open Letter to my Novel
Have you ever written a letter to your work-in-progress before? Hear me out - I know it's crazy (and I feel like I'm always telling you to do crazy things but they're freaking helpful so go with me here).
When you're in the trenches of writing your novel, it can get rough. You WILL get frustrated. You WILL consider quitting. You might just break down and cry. You might not know what to do next. You might not know what to do at all.
(There's lots of wonderful parts too, don't worry. We're just not talking about those ones today).
My novel was making me mad. REALLY mad. It wasn't coming out the way I wanted. My protagonist was being needy and annoying. I had (have) no idea how the ending should be. It was too slow, too boring, too predictable, to elusive. And all this caused me not to devote the amount of time to my novel that I wanted. Which caused me to be even more mad.
So I did what we writers do when we have an issue: procrastinate. Just kidding (kind of). I wrote about it. I articulated my frustrations. I admitted where I was falling short. I made promises and goals to do better. And it helped.
I did this though, through the lens of actually talking to the novel itself. Crazy? Yes. Helpful? Also yes. Here's why:
When you get frustrated with another person - your mom, your significant other, your boss, whoever - you may bottle up some feelings and carry them around with you. These feelings weigh you down and it's hard to shake. They filter everything you do (or don't do) and make it difficult to live to your full potential. To fix it, you confront the other person and talk it out. This may result in a fight, but even if it does it often ends in a resolution, a compromise, an understanding. You feel better about it because you've expressed yourself, released your feelings, listened to the other person, a found a solution to the issues. You find a way to move forward.
So why NOT do it with your WIP?
Your WIP is a complex, emotional thing that you're working with for a long period of time. It IS you literally talking on the page, but it has big questions, big goals, big things that you're trying to make it do. If you're censoring it, you're going to have troubles. This is where the writing stops and frustration enters. You're not listening to it, when you should be.
The dedication to it for a long period of time causes a need too. Just like any relationship you have for a long period of time, you have to give and take, pay attention to it, put in effort to keep the relationship strong. We need to reframe our thinking of our WIPs as simply words on a page, but stories we have relationships with. You want your readers to feel those emotions and have a relationship with your story - so why shouldn't you? Especially during the act of writing it?
So I wrote a letter to my novel to see what would happen. I treated it as if we were in a relationship. I expressed my frustrations and admitted my faults. And it made me feel better. I found where I could improve so that I'm able to continue moving forward. I let it be all messy and shitty and rambling because I want it to be honest. I wanted ME to be honest with myself.
And now I'm moving forward.
I wish I could just snap my fingers, wave a magic wand, say "abracadabra" and poof, you would appear. I wish you weren't so deceptive, so evasive, so difficult. I wish I could know the best ending. I wish I could know all the secrets. I wish I could be finished with you.
But the truth isn't this. At least not entirely. I also wish for the opposite. I think I don't want to finish you because I want to revel in your world forever. I wish you could surprise me till the end of time. I wish you would always keep some secrets locked away, so that I am left curious, wanting, but satisfied.
I've never written a letter to you before. I don't think I've even addressed you before. Which is silly because you deserve to be addressed. You are not just a concept, a future object, a project. You are a complicated emotional thing. You're a complex thing. You are surely something. Some thing. Not an artificial forced thing, but something organic. Something that deserves room to breathe, a conversation.
It is my job to shape you into being, to let you be whatever you want to be, to help you exist. But I'm learning, right now in fact, that I cannot force you into being. I must give you room to wander. I must listen to the truth you want to speak. This is not a monologue, me telling you how to be, but a dialogue. This isn't me creating something based on how I think it should be, but a relationship. This whole thing is a two-way street.
I will try to be a better listener. I will try to give you freedom to go, to wander, to evolve, to change. I'll be loyal to you until you're finished. I'll stay focused, stay disciplined, and give you attention. I will do this because I care about you, and I want you to be the best you can be.
Oh, dear novel, you frustrate me! You drive me crazy! I can find so many other things to do than pay attention to you. But sitting down and listening, actually listening and doing what I need to do to be present and let this story be told is hard. It's so hard! It's not a feat for the weak or the lazy or the easily bored! But good relationships are always hard. (That's one of your biggest messages too). They always require effort, attention, commitment. I PROMISE I will give that to you. Because you're worth it.
I want to be done with you. I know you're a good story. I know other people will like your. I know you will be beautiful when you are finished. I know I can make this happen. I know I can do it.
I just have to actually do it.
You are a lesson in patience, dedication, commitment. These are all good things. These are also all annoying things. These are difficult things to learn. Can't I just quit? It'd be soo much easier to quit.
But I don't want to quit. I want to persevere. I want to finish. I just have to do it. I will make the time, sit down, and write it out. Once it's out, it's out. I just have to do that.
Perhaps you'll be easier to deal with once I'm in the editing phase. I like editing. Editing is easier for me. I'll be happier with you when I'm editing.
But is that the truth? Is that really how it will be? We always want to believe that just on the other side of where we are we'll find bliss (the grass is always greener...). But look at where we are right now. Shouldn't I be paying attention to this moment? Savoring it? Enjoying it? When I spend time with you, when I write this story, I am happy. I enjoy making progress on this story - THIS story. I jut have to pay attention to it, be conscious. Stay focused in the present moment.
So here's what I'll do:
I promise to stay committed to you to the end. I will see this through.
I promise to pay attention to all the deviations from the plan, all the twists and turns, the organic evolution of this story, so it can be the best it can be. I will try out various solutions to find the best ending for you. I will let you surprise me so I don't get bored. I promise to listen to where the story wants to go.
I promise to savor the process, to enjoy each and every (frustrating) moment.
I promise to make time to spend with you.
My dearest novel, I will do this because I care, because I have seen your passion, because I'm devoted. Call me crazy, but here I am. Let's do this.
Try writing a letter to your novel. Tell it how you're mad, what you're mad about. Admit where you've been wrong and say you're sorry. Figure out a compromise to move forward.
Do it. Feel better. And get back writing.