I Go Crazy When I’m Writing A Novel

22 Mar


I go crazy when I’m writing a novel.

I’ve discovered this twice now. The first time I thought it might be circumstantial, a novice-to-the-trade kind of thing.  My first real novel, you see, I started in high school.  I remind myself of this when I Hate Writing and Life and Why Am I Doing This Dear Heavens Above.  I started a novel at 17 because I really, really wanted to write.

I had a therapist in London who very bluntly told me:

a) I needed to quit my job

b) I needed to leave London

c) the boy I loved was not nearly all I made him out to be

She also told me to be a writer.

And here I am.

Sometimes I wish I still had her as a therapist.  I almost can’t remember what she looks like, is that insane?  Some cross between Joan Didion and Nora Ephron, an older woman with sensible shoes and classic hair.  An intellectual who loved Freud and didn’t mess around.  The type of fierce feminist I’m most drawn to in this world.

If you’re going to be anything, might as well be a fierce feminist, I say.

I don’t remember my therapist’s name either.  This is getting crazier.  This woman whom I owe so much to, who I talk about at least on a weekly basis, I know nothing about.

Did I make her up?

I once saw my flatmate in London leaving my therapist’s practice as I was going in and we never spoke about it.

That was real.

The point is I’m a writer and I’m writing my second real novel and gosh it’s just as hard as it was the first time.

I keep telling myself that writing is like baking.  I like to bake, or in theory I like to bake.  Later tonight I’m going to make Robert his favorite oatmeal banana muffins because I like to bake when it’s for a person I like and a recipe I like.

Writing a novel, I decided, is like making a soufflé.

It takes a few tries to know what you’re doing.

I imagine Stephen King at this point in the game sits back in his fancy desk, stretches, and then writes 40,000 words a day.  It’s like breathing to him.  No big deal.  Writer’s block?  He has another cup of coffee and powers through. He is a soufflé making machine.

I am not.

Last weekend I decided I was going to FINISH THIS DAMN THING and spend five straight days in the Pepperdine library FINISHING THE DAMN THING.

I don’t know why I do this to myself.

I would never ask myself to run a marathon.  I know I am not physically capable of running a marathon.

And yet when I’m not mentally capable of 13 hour writing days I fall to pieces.

What’s wrong with me?

Why am I so fatally flawed?

It was a hot weekend, too.  I don’t deal well with heat, partially because my room has these huge, glorious windows that make everything in it an oven.  I don’t have AC.  You don’t need AC in Malibu, apparently, except when you do and it’s 85 degrees in your house and 95 degrees in your room and you’re crying because the first half of act one of your second book is so terrible you can’t even get through it.

And your boyfriend says it isn’t that bad and you snap at him.

You haven’t read it!  Of course it’s that bad!

And then he offers to read it and you cry some more.

No one can read it ever!  What are you even talking about?

And then you go to his house to take a nap in his bed because it’s so so hot in your room.

And you are a whiny, weepy mess.

I don’t know what I’m doing with my pronouns here.

I don’t know what I’m doing with much of anything.

Writing a book is torture.  A friend, whose novel I’m giving edits on, told me she wouldn’t wish it on her worst enemy.  Amy Poehler in the beginning of her book describes it as “hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not.”

Writing a novel is not easy.  It is not magical.

There is no dreamy cabin in the woods where words lightly flow from your fingers to the page and the sun smiles through the trees and the waves, the dangerous waves, crash–a metaphor for life.

I read Big Sur by Jack Kerouac.  He was deeply troubled during his time in a dreamy cabin trying to write his novel while the metaphoric waves crashed.

Writing is not fun.

I told this to Rob the other day when I was sad I was making the wrong choice with my life.  I kind of hate writing a lot of the time.  Especially the 95 degrees first act times.

He said, you don’t write because it’s fun.  You write because you have something to say.  Because you feel compelled to tell these stories.

And then we went into H&M to look for watermelon swim shorts for him.

They didn’t have any.

Next time, he said.

Writing a book is hard work.  I can’t even formulate normal thoughts about it yet.  It’s a lot of eating, actually.  I wonder how people are writers and even remotely healthy.

When I’m really in the groove, ticking along, I use food to sustain me.  I think, “Well yes this is an abnormal amount of popcorn, but tomorrow I am done with the book and then I will only eat asparagus and spinach and other plant things for the rest of my life.”

And the problem is tomorrow never comes.

Someday never comes.

Writing a novel takes approximately 42.4 billion times longer than you think.  Well, I don’t know how long you think it will take, but I never estimate right.  I think I can write it all in one crazy weekend and then I end up crying at my boyfriend’s house asking him to put the fan on my face because I’m so hot.

I ran cross country in high school.  That was the time in my life I was in the best physical shape.  I woke up at 5:00AM to go on a run.  I got out of class and went on a run.  I lifted weights…like all the time.  Real weights.

And I remember one day realizing that even for all my running I only ever felt good, really good like I could run for hours and hours and everything was fun and breezy and light…maybe once a month.


Which was quite a low statistic when you factored in how much I was running.

Writing is much the same, I’ve discovered.  Or writing a book, rather.  I like this blog.  I like assignments that take only 500 words.  Those are manageable chunks.  Those don’t have strings of plot I completely forgot about, characters who never arced, a half-defined world that never quite makes it into reality.

But writing a book?  I have a good day maybe once a month.

It’s beautiful, those good days.  It makes me feel like nothing I’ve ever felt before.  I’m giddy and giggly and tell everyone I know that the world is good and my life path is the only one I can imagine and I know, deep in my bones, that this is my destiny.

And then I get some popcorn and gear up for 42 billion more bad days.

Because that’s how this writing a novel thing goes.

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7 Responses to “I Go Crazy When I’m Writing A Novel”

  1. Kylee March 22, 2015 at 10:42 pm #

    The year that I did cross country was also my year of peak physical shape. If it took running 5 miles a day and lifting weights (real weights) twice a week to get my tiny 16-year-old body in to that kind of shape…. I don’t even want to imagine what it would take to get my butt to that place now. I do know that it’s probably one too many diet cokes and sugar cookies that I am NOT willing to give up.

    • jillianlorraine March 24, 2015 at 8:30 am #

      Haha amen. Life without sugar cookies and Diet Coke is no life at all.

  2. Bailey Brewer March 23, 2015 at 8:29 am #

    i’m working on my memoir — first draft — and all i’ve been telling people the past week is how boring it is. and how encouraging that is because if i’m bored, i’m sure everyone’s going to want to read it.

    i’m with you, sister. and as for the heat — just remind yourself you don’t live in the valley. 🙂

    • jillianlorraine March 24, 2015 at 8:32 am #

      I’m still laughing about the valley comment. And I feel you with first drafts. First drafts! The hardest of them all.

      • Bailey Brewer March 24, 2015 at 8:37 am #

        shitty first drafts! short assignments! butt in chair!

        anne lamott

        *you’ve read ‘bird by bird,’ i presume? otherwise this comment will not make sense.

  3. Lisa and Tate March 23, 2015 at 8:21 pm #

    The truth about this writing gig is…. YOU ARE SO GOOD… it would be a shame if you don’t write that book. Even sadder if I don’t get to read said book. So go get that popcorn because that blessed great writing day will happen soon,

    • jillianlorraine March 24, 2015 at 8:33 am #

      Awww, thank you so much Lisa.

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