“To think with an enlarged mentality means that one trains one’s imagination to go visiting.” Although philosopher Hannah Arendt wasn’t speaking of novelists in particular, her words seem quite apt, because writers’ imaginations go visiting every time we pull up a chair in front of our computer.
Like the other visits in life, sometimes we wish we could put it off for another day, and sometimes we anticipate it eagerly. In the yearlong visit that constitutes the writing of my fourth novel, I know something about both attitudes. For the last week or so, I’ve been putting off paying a call on my main character, who has just arrived in Granada and is going to have to create a new life for herself there. However, this morning I woke up, ready to knock on her door.
A burst of energy and ideas drove me through the five pages I needed to set the scene and introduce the new characters she will have to contend with. Nevertheless, I’m still a long way from blazing through the next chapter. It takes a while for scenes and people to come to life for me, but I am starting to get to the point–and this is a very good sign–where I so completely can’t wait to see what happens next that I have to force myself to stay in bed until the clock says 6AM. Not until then, not even 5:59, can I get up and rush to the computer and see what pours out onto the screen.
Having reach page 400 with this latest push this morning, I’m facing what is both a predicament and a blessing. On the one hand, I don’t think it’s possible to get everything that needs to happen into the next 100 pages, at which point I will reach my arbitrarily imposed maximum length of 500 pages. I’m worried that a manuscript longer than that may be more difficult for my agent to market, although I know both from personal experience as a reader and from what others have told me, that lovers of historical fiction are more likely to think greater length is a good thing than are fans of many other genres.
On the other hand, much as I love to write, it’s wonderful to have 400 polished pages behind me, and to know that the end is, if not exactly in sight, close enough to catch the scent when the wind is right. It is interesting how this particular point in a novel has always brought a bit of a stall to my momentum, as if something about being able to acknowledge the end will come makes it harder to cope with how far away it is. Years ago, I used to run 10Ks, and this is like being around the 7K mark. I think I can make it, but it’s awfully hard right now, which is the only time that counts, and I don’t want to think of how much lies ahead. But just like with a footrace, it can only be done one step at a time, or in this case, one sentence at a time.
Gotta go now–visiting hours will be over soon and I have a young woman in Granada who’s expecting me.