I have decided that 19th century writers did have some advantages over my generation, us millenial scribblers. Though I don’t envy Jo of Little Women “copying out her novel for the fourth time” by hand, still, a thick stack of handwritten manuscript WOULD make a nice picture to post on social media- more satisfying than a screenshot of a blinking text cursor at the bottom of a Microsoft word page on my laptop screen.
I began it last October. Well, really I began it seventeen years ago, when I was on the brink of my teen years, a confirmed romantic even at twelve, who got into fights about computer time with my siblings because I didn’t want to halt the words that just seemed to keep flowing magically from my brain to my fingers. I wrote it in a few short months: in my five years as an aspiring writer it was the first time I had ever finished anything, and I gloried in the 70-odd thousand words of it, that I had written them, a really truly novel. I felt like Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lucy Maud Montgomery all rolled into one. I felt like God creating the world.
Over the next few years, I proceeded to revise and rewrite it three or four times. It was still a very private endeavor; only very select two or three ever were trusted to know its contents. My little sister was one of these; I bribed her with jellybeans so I could read it aloud to her all the way through, a fate she more or less patiently endured. But for the most part, it was my secret world, this novel world I had created for myself, and so when I began to return to it less and less often, no one really noticed.
My last revision, accomplished when I was around eighteen or nineteen, I abandoned less than half finished, yet somehow, the story never quite forgot me. In my early twenties I clicked open the file now and then or glanced through the binder I had, re-reading parts. Sometimes I laughed, sometimes I cringed, but sometimes I read certain passages with a sense that this paragraph or page was actually not so bad- with a deep down hope that, perhaps, the quality of the writing might be considered good, from even an unbiased judge. Occasionally I played with a few scenes when I was bored or when I felt like writing fiction instead of blogging. And then I would get annoyed at myself for my maudlin clinging to the remains of my childhood writing aspirations, and would wonder what literary immaturity I was revealing in that I still felt an affinity to the made-up companions whose destinies I had arranged with such pleasure a decade and a half ago.
They never seemed to leave me alone, those pesky characters whom my imagination had birthed so painlessly once upon a time. Whenever I thought of my hopes to someday write GOOD fiction, the old faces were lingering there in my writer’s mind, looking at me- not accusingly or resentfully, but perhaps a bit mournfully. What about us? they seemed to murmur. And they had a right to ask, it felt like. As a young adult I had begun reworking their history, only to leave them hanging. I carried some ideas in my head as to what should become of them, but since I was fourteen I’d never given them the closure of a full and completed story– and because they had evolved so much, even as I grew and matured in my own life and in my writing, that their story when I was fourteen could bear very little resemblance to their story now- or what it would be, if I had the temerity to try to set it down now, as an adult.
I decided to try. My older sister encouraged me to do it. It would be for fun– “just string it all together with a bunch of deus ex machina and finish it–” an exercise for my writing brain, since I hadn’t been blogging, an elementary way to try to learn more of the craft of fiction writing by just out and out writing it. It would be easier than starting from scratch, and I could at last deal justly with the cast of characters hovering in the background. I would finish it, and exorcise the ghosts.
So I began it again, last October. It blazed furiously to life, as though for long years the kindling had been laid, and it was waiting only for me to set my match. The old friends welcomed me back, ready to show me how they had matured and changed in my absence. The intoxication of writing as world-creation, the flow and magic of it, was something I had not tasted in years, and to my surprise and delight it came back. In the midst of my absolutely ordinary life as a military wife with two small children, my daily reality of diapers and parks and snacks and tantrums and giggles, I had a secret world again. My husband would grin benevolently at me, on his way to bed and leaving me on the living room couch, rapt in front of my laptop screen, to enjoy the quiet house for another hour or two in the company of the old friends.
So it isn’t finished. Months of revision lie ahead, till I know I have done my best, and can do no more. I want some people to read it, and be willing to learn from their criticism and modify based on their critiques. Nevertheless, I feel a sense of accomplishment at coming to the end of this draft– the first complete draft I have completed as an adult, with an adult’s mind and understanding and the most mature writing voice and ability I can bring to the table. I have no illusions of it being great literature by any stretch of the imagination: I am still plodding the path, but I am content with that. There’s still a kind of jubilant exhale in my brain, an impulse to pop a cork and lift a glass to first-last-drafts– or to write a blog post, which is probably the 21st century writerly equivalent.
For us all– here’s to beginnings and endings. Here’s to the long, surprising, wonderfully frustrating and frustratingly wonderful path in between, to every step along the way, the steps that are laborious and painful and the ones where we run so fast we seem to fly. They are all good, they all count. Here’s to every good endeavor, every attempt to take a Creator-given talent and create something, whether the method be artistic or scientific or relational, whether the setting is your studio, your classroom, your kitchen, your workplace, your church, your family, or your imagination, whether the medium is words, music, paint, flour, cloth, chemicals, mathematical formulas, or relationships. The world is full of beauty and it’s no zero-sum game in trying to add to it; there is room for all of our creativity.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil. The poem goes on to pile up images of how creation is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil. But in the next stanza he joyfully declares, And for all this, nature is never spent/ There lives the dearest freshness deep down things. And in the end, … the Holy Ghost over the bent world/ broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Our creative work is a glorying in that flaming grandeur, a reaching up, stretching our hands to touch those bright wings.