Of course that doesn’t mean that the writing process is – or should, right? – never be boring or frustrating or feel like work. It doesn’t mean that I never spend 20 minutes with my fingers poised, staring off into space thinking about whether or not it would be more productive to allow myself to go sweep up the dead cockroach that I just noticed under the chair, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t think that it’s ever necessary to slog through he-moved-from-this-room-to-that-room or this-is-how-these-future-glasses-work moments. But seriously. Chances are that if I’m bored while I’m writing, you’re gonna be bored while you’re reading.
Big thanks to the various other writers in my life who have said things along these lines. This was an important realization for me; I don’t think I would have ever attempted a novel without it. The things is, I’m a poet. A poet who ended up in the fiction side of an MFA program. A poet who grew up reading Madeleine L’Engle, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Anne McCaffrey; a poet in love with science fiction. When I was 5 yrs old I would fantasize about my novel launch when I couldn’t sleep. But then I grew up, and every time I would sit down to write fiction I would be exhausted before I started.
Fiction is hard. It is. For a poet, anyway. At least it looks hard. To me. It looks like I’m gonna have to explain so much. Like I’m gonna have to methodically plod through all of this tedious plot. But let me tell you, I don’t! I don’t have to plod! And plot is a lie – but that comes later.
Let’s start here: if I find I’m boring myself to death moving my characters around – trudging through time and space – to get from this bit of action to that, I stop, hit return twice, and there it is. It’s happening. It’s all happening! I just don’t have to be there to record every grimy detail. A lot can happen in the silences. A lot can happen in relief. Chances are that if I’m really into what I am writing, the details will be better, the dialogue juicer, the wit wittier – and all of the drudgery in between will insinuate itself into one’s imagination whether one likes it or not. Gotta trust “the reader” to create. Even in a novel.
Of course, sometimes there are details that can’t be left out. Details about how and where, such as how the world of the novel operates – even the more mundane-seeming world of a mid-west suburb or an up-state NY B&B. I still don’t think I should have to force my characters or my narrator to explain if they’re just not into it. For me, this has necessitated a more hybrid interpretation of the novel genre. If my character doesn’t want to talk about what she sees as she hitches north along the Mississippi, there are plenty of regular ol’ folks along the way who want to blog, tweet and chat about it. Thank god my novel takes place in a tech-glut world where everyone is connected. Thank god I’m obsessed with the marriage of form and content. I can always ask myself if this moment I’m killing myself over really belongs to this character – or if maybe it belongs to a podcast by an expert on evolution or a trucker’s chat room.
Obviously this second solution is less broadly applicable, but I do think it was helpful for me to realize that I could write any kind of novel I wanted – whatever kind was going to keep me in it. And now when I sit down to work on the novel, and all I can think is that it is going to take sooooooo freakin’ long for Cleo to essentially walk from New Orleans to Chicago through what has largely become a wilderness, I have a built in solution.
Jenn Marie Nunes is a poet and writer living in New Orleans. Her work appears in such journals as Ninth Letter, Horse Less Review, Bateau, Finery and the Sonora Review. Her echapbook, STRIP, is available at PANK Magazine, and she is co-author of the chapbook OPERA TRANS OPERA, forthcoming from Alice Blue Books. Together with poet Mel Coyle, she is editor of TENDE RLOIN, an online gallery for poetry. She holds an MFA in fiction from LSU; this is her first novel-in-progress.