My first ninety minutes of novel writing thank you, Dena Harris

Ninety Minutes

Ninety minutes. Two hours interspersed with the occasional joke from across the room and a few quick breaks.  I'm offering generous hat-tips to these interruptions. Which leaves me with at least a solid 90 minutes. Ninety is a lot of simultaneous minutes to focus on a single task. Especially if those 90 minutes request that you be quiet and sit in your seat and not listen to music or an enthralling speaker. Ninety minutes is a nice stretch if there's not a movie or performance or television show to entertain you.

Photo of a grouping of chairs and sofas with cases of books behind them.There's a tiny vibrating, glowing halo around the words "90 Minutes" as I see the figures in my head today.

Ninety minutes is how long I sat on a cushy sofa, laptop on the pillow in my lap Wednesday, and wrote. And wrote. And wrote. For an hour and a half, my fingers flew over the keyboard and the ideas that have been swirling around in my head poured onto the screen in front of me.

Five full pages worth of flying fingers

More than a year ago, I decided I had finally come up with an idea that was good enough to move me from "One day I'm going to write a novel" to "It's time to think about finally writing a novel." Only, instead of writing, I told a few people about it. And the more I talked, and the more time that passed, I talked myself out of it. What I eventually discovered was that I didn't love a key plot element enough to want to immerse myself in the kind of research that would have permitted me to write an authentic novel involving my particular topic. So I let it go. For a long while.

The nice things about big ideas is that even when they turn out to be bad ideas, sometimes they will morph themselves, over time, into different ideas. Workable ideas.

A couple of weeks ago, over coffee with writer Dena Harris, she told me that some of the people from her writer's group had been bouncing around the idea of meeting for regular writing sessions. These meetings wouldn't be meant as critique periods or sharing sessions. The writers would come together, instead, for the sole purpose of writing. I got real jealous for a second there. First, because I've gotten into one of those solo grooves in which I don't leave the house enough, lately, and I think I've been craving the company of others while I work. And, too, because they were talking about something I've always dreamed about doing. The idea of having this tiny block of accountabity to commit to regular writing, sounded really appealing.

I got me an invite. Oh yes I did. Thank you Dena Harris. Which means 4 people who have written together before, 2 of whom I knew, plus me, sat in a comfy room I'll tell you about another time, and shared the ambience and atmosphere, and we wrote quietly with minimal interruptions. Together.

Instead of letting myself talk me out of writing because this is wrong or I hate that, on Wednesday I sat and wrote through the questions that emerged. Every time I would come to a detail in which I didn't know what in the world I could do with a particular situation or scenario, I'd just ask myself the question, or make a note about how I didn't really know how this would work out, and move on. Usually within minutes, a new idea had emerged, I answered the questions and discovered new possibilities about my characters. By the time our two hours had passed, I had a much better story in front of me, answers to many questions, and new trust for my writing style.

I shared my excitement of this discovery with Christopher Laney afterward, and he affirmed what I'm learning. That a vital component to the process is just sitting down to do the writing, even when there are holes in your plot and flaws in your characters. He pulled out a page on which a quote of James Thurber's was typed in centered, large, bold type: "Don't get it right; get it written."  The page is now on the wall in my office where I will see it every day. Chris has been working on his own novel all summer and his focus and dedication inspires me.

The funny thing is that I've "known this" for years. Reading the books I shared on this page years ago, I was told these things again and again. Which leads me to believe, now more than ever, that it's often about the timing, as much as anything else.

And while I'm not writing every day in the manner I always imagined I would when I finally started my novel, I've begun it, and I have a date to write again next Wednesday. Naturally if I find an empty block of time between now and then, and that special kind of inspiration that overtook me this week, I can sit down and continue. With the numbers of website projects I have in front of me, that's doubtful. But I have Wednsday. This is a gift and I'm going to embrace it with everything I have. Because it's time to write my novel now.