I crafted the outline for this novel back in 2006, but I was working on a poetry manuscript at the time. The outline was just a distraction from the poetry I was supposed to be writing while working at the Montana Artists Refuge. That residency space, a truly gorgeous series of connected buildings in Basin, Montana, is now closed. Later, at the Vermont Writing Studio, I actually started seriously working on the novel. I got the first chapters done, flushed out the outline so that I fully understood what the characters would be doing and how this plot-driven novel would end. It was an obsessive practice. By the summer of 2007, I had been to two previous workshops (Macdowell and Kimmel Harding Nelson) to work on that second poetry manuscript and, every now and then, but only as a distraction, the novel. At VWS, I rarely slept. I started keeping my regular crazy hours or writing until 5 or 6am, sleeping until 8 or 9 before returning to work all day. Every now and then I would get a nap in there, but generally I was going on between 3 and 5 hours of sleep.
Years later, I believe it was 2010, I had another residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland. Still, the novel played second fiddle to the poetry. The poetry I had been working on for several years shifted. I finished Boogeyman Dawn and sent that off to Salmon Poetry after it had been named a finalist for a contest that year. I started working on a third manuscript of poetry. It still has two names. I personally prefer Tango Criollo better than House of Ribbons, which most other folks like. I’m still batting around that manuscript. At the TGC, I found myself working on the novel again, a few pages at a time. Never a focus. I always start out the residency saying that this time I will devote myself more to the novel, but it doesn’t like to share. I simply cannot devote myself to the novel and to poetry at the same time. It’s a possessive beast.
Each time I tangle with the novel, I reread what I’ve written. The chapter before and then down through the rest of the synopsis. Each time, I discover a new section that makes me weep. If I’m in a public place, I find myself having to look away until I can regain control of myself. The story draws me in, even as I am the creator. The novel is part fictional memoir, and it is in those pieces that I find myself so easily submerged again. I wonder if my inability to commit to the writing of this novel is tied to anxiety over becoming emotionally involved with characters, characters whose story may only be all-encompassing to me.
Three chapters. Just three little chapters. That would get me to about halfway into the novel. We are talking 30-60 pages here. Not that much. If I am ruthless to myself – we are talking dawn to dusk, maybe one bathroom break, no food, maybe some water, no getting up from the desk – I can get that done in a day. It’s not particularly healthy, but it’s how I completed my dissertation. Saturdays feverishly writing in bed. Every few weeks I might allow myself fresh air. I have done this and survived.
I’ve been writing this for years. Countless lists, 10 year plans, blog entries, Facebook status updates as if to write it would make it happen. Three little chapters, then three more, then three more, and then maybe three more. Nothing big.
I’m a coward and a lazy layabout. Maybe tomorrow. Today, I want to play Words with Friends and pack my bags for this weekend.