What have you left behind to become who or what you are, now?
Several years ago, helping my godparents move out of their closed cafe, we encountered one item which wouldn’t budge. The waist-high iron safe was so heavy–or had actually settled into the poured-concrete floor–that we couldn’t move it. It seemed to chant “Back injury” every time I touched it. Ultimately, we left it for the suite’s next occupants to deal with. Ali and Farzaneh had no use for a 500-pound metal box, anyway.
On my first night of MFA courses at Hamline, program chair Mary Rockcastle said she had a first novel (about a young woman’s sexuality, I believe) sitting in a box up on a closet shelf. When asked if she’d ever get it down and publish it, she laughed it off. A soft-spoken fellow student (a Morocco-born physician) asked her about it again in a follow-up class. Nope. It wasn’t going to happen.
How can a writer abandon an entire novel? Even then, I knew it was a monumental work. Now that I’ve been through the process four times, mistakes and all, I’m certain it is. Endgame alone gobbled up 1,700 hours.
More than a few times–in fact, it seemed to be an unchallenged mantra at Hamline–people have said your first novel is an exercise in process. You have to write that first one–stumbling miscues, wee-hours epiphanies, atrocious errors–simply to experience all of that. Then you’re ready to write a novel. “To the closet shelf with you, Rookie Effort!”
But it’s true. My first, and MFA thesis, was called “Journeys of the Razed Bridge.” Jack and Jehanne. Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, girl has god-awful secret (and misdeeds), boy…You get the idea. It had everything (I thought) with an appropriately literary title. Bam, I was on my way.
Somewhere, harsh reality set in. A solid year of work now exists as an old Word doc and a paper copy in my basement. My writing went on.
Solidly into my 40s, now, I’m in a stage of life where casting off regrets is entirely healthy. Crucial, even. So there are random moments when I consider dragging out JOTRB for a re-work (a stroll down amnesia lane, if you will). But I’ve learned what I’ve learned. Jack and Jehanne may live again, or may spend eternity riding the baggage carousel. Either way, they did their job. I can be grateful.