It’s five years since my last novel, Down a Narrow Alley.* I had begun to think that I had no more book-length stories left in me. To my surprise, I woke up one late July morning with what seems like a viable novel project, complete with interesting characters, at least a rudimentary plot line/narrative arc (always my nemesis).
Since I've been sitting on a half-written novel and a bunch of other “concepts,” I promised myself that I would not begin to write until I had a compass, in the form of a nearly complete outline (beginning, middle, and end).
Typically, the brainstorms that fly from my imagination have a short lifespan. This new one, whose working title is A Train to Bruges, feels different. It breathes pure oxygen and includes subplots/obstacles/solutions/twists that show promise of getting me beyond Chapter 5. The first 5,000 words flooded into an MS Word document. "Hey, world, A. J. Garrotto's got his groove back!" Then, I got sucker-punched. Never saw it coming. My attacker's name was Guilt (capitalized and italicized).
"Do you know how long it'll to take you to finish this thing?"
I recognized the strident, mocking voice. It has hounded me through every attempt to write a good novel, if not the Great American Novel. "Yeah," I said, already rocked back on my heels, "about a year."
"How can you justify a commitment like that when you already have a close-to-full-time job . . . and a family?" Not having a ready answer left me open to another jab. "And, even if you finish your sorry-ass novel, who's going to read it besides your relatives and most loyal friends? Oh, and by the way, have you checked the sales of your last three novels lately? Just how many millions down are they on Amazon's sales chart?"
I'm chagrined at how easily I succumb to this kind of writer-abuse, but there is a positive side. In the euphoria of inspiration and renewed dedication, I hadn't stopped to ask myself why I want to write this novel. This question is the step-child of the greater question, why do I write at all. Granting the validity of some of the negatives in my adversary’s mockery, are there any good reasons to write what might turn out to be another “dead-end” novel?
Yes! And let me point them out.
1. The search for meaning is the great work of my life. Writing a novel helps me to explore parts of my inner Self that I neglect in other aspects of my daily existence. Through my characters, I learn things about myself. Is it selfish to write for one's own benefit and growth? In a way, but I’d rather think of writing as a unique way for the divine to reach into my heart and put a few more pieces of the puzzle of my life in place.
2. I write to leave a personal legacy to my daughters and grandchildren. Maybe they’ll learn things about me that I have not disclosed in face to face revelation and understand how I got to be who I am.
3. Recently, while journaling, I had an insight about myself. I wrote, “I am a storyteller. That’s who I am.” Everything I do in life is related to story, whether it's journaling in private or writing fiction and nonfiction for publication. In my professional ministry as lay minister in my local parish, I listen to human stories and share my own jagged story--connecting all of it to the Great Story that God is telling in the history of planet Earth and the expanding universe.
4. Making up stories is fun!
Now that I’m warmed up, I could add to that list, but I don’t need to. I already have enough reasons to add chapters to this new work, mining its personal treasures and deferring judgments about its ultimate literary value and its future in the publishing universe. Let it end up two millionth on Amazon. The writing is the thing. And for this storyteller, that’s enough.
* Down a Narrow Alley is the sequel to Circles of Stone
(2002, Hilliard and Harris Publishers)
(c) 2010 by Alfred J. Garrotto