Through what caprice of Providence I can’t imagine, I finished a more or less clean, more or less “second” draft of my novel yesterday—which is to say, on the eve of National Novel Writing Month.
I confess I rushed it a little, because the reading period of a press I much admire and wanted to submit to closed yesterday, and I was foolishly determined to get my book to them now rather than waiting until the spring. I will no doubt keep on revising, though I plan on giving it the proverbial month’s space.
Honestly, no one has looked at even one word of the text. I wrote it—all 88,500 words—in five months. This is ill-advised, though I seem to recall that Charlotte Brontë wrote Jane Eyre in five months. Not that I’m comparing myself to Charlotte Brontë!
Since no one has laid eyes on it, it’s possible that it makes no sense at all, as in that old episode of The Golden Girls, in which Blanche stays up all night writing a novel and proclaims herself a genius in the morning, only to be told by Rose that what she has written is incomprehensible.
“What’s it about? What’s it like?” I’ve been asked.
“Uh, Lena Dunham meets José Saramago?”
Not that I’m comparing myself to, well, you know.
I am not yet a member of the cult of revision. (“Not yet” because I change my mind all the time. “Nothing I say is my last word on anything” [Henry James]—not that I’m comparing myself to Henry James!)
I love Flaubert, Joyce, and Nabokov: I love that they would spend a morning putting in a comma and an afternoon taking a comma out, or however the anecdote about one or another of them goes. But I wish the Flaubertians would concede that sometimes a gain in a exactness means a loss in energy. Would you want to have to choose between Flaubert and Charlotte Brontë? between Nabokov and Dostoevsky? I wouldn’t.
Shakespeare, lamented Ben Jonson, never blotted a line, when he ought to have blotted a thousand. Yet right now schoolchildren in Japan and Nigeria are reading Shakespeare, and who is reading Ben Jonson? Not that I’m comparing myself to Shakespeare!
Being a doctor of philosophy, I will quote the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari:
…in order to designate something exactly, anexact expressions are utterly unavoidable. Not at all because it is a necessary step, or because one can only advance by approximations: anexactitude is in no way an approximation; on the contrary, it is the exact passage of that which is underway.
I did come up with a title, by the way. I’ve practically never had “writer’s block” as badly in my life as I did when it came to naming this book. When I first thought of the title I chose, it seemed desperate, a compromise, something I had to come up with because I wanted to submit the thing to the press with the deadline. But now it feels semi-inevitable:
Portraits and Ashes
It has a nineties ring to it, maybe, a Sandman trade paperback timed for the return of the Sandman and the nineties revival, soft grunge, soft goth, who am I not to submit myself to fashion? But I have come to love it, after twenty-four hours.
Anybody want to read this thing? I will understand if not. And for the rest of you, good luck with your November novels.