So About That Novel…

My desk

I have been writing this novel now since somewhere around August of 2012. (Pause here for wide-eyed disbelief that time moves so terrifyingly quickly.) To recap: a private sales representative steals 14 paintings from Sotheby’s in Paris, and the story unfolds around each painting, focusing on the relationship between four main characters. (I think. Fourteen is proving to be a lot of paintings). Between August of 2012 and April 2014, before I left for Paris, I had managed to write roughly 44k words, making slow but steady progress, mostly on Sundays, the only day of the week I really had to devote to the task. 87 weeks, 44k. In the eight weeks I spent in Paris, where I had every day of the week at my disposal –every day was Sunday!–I wrote another 30k. My goal going into this trip was to double my word count, and I might well have, had I not slacked off near the end of June. There were certain days that were devoted entirely to doing anything and everything except writing, like walking and eating and reading and museum-hopping, a fact for which I will not feel guilty, I will not feel guilty, I will not feel guilty. A combination of PERFECT weather and the siren call of those charming Parisian streets and the smell of delicious bread products wafting from literally every direction everywhere I went all the time ohmygodgivemeabaguette, made it nearly impossible to sit inside at my desk. So I’d take my notebook and head out, and often I never pulled it out of my bag. “I’ll write tomorrow!” turned into “I’ll write when it’s rainy and I don’t mind staying in!” which meant that the three straight weeks of glorious, mid-60s temperatures and clear blue skies Paris had in June saw little to no pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keyboard action.

One more time, with feeling: I will not feel guilty.

Could I have pushed myself to write more? Of course. I could’ve locked myself in my apartment and not gone to Ladurée, like, fifteen times. But sometimes finding a balance doesn’t mean that everything gets an equal share. The balance that worked for me towards the end skewed less in favor or writing, and more in favor of soaking up Paris. And while I might not have been as diligent as I was for the first half of the trip with writing substantial amounts every single day, I know for a fact that Paris worked its magic on me and that the trip was (of course) a success. Seeing the street where my main character lives, attending auctions at Sotheby’s, absorbing the specific sounds and rhythms of daily life in Paris –what the call button on the bus sounds like, the rip of paper at the fromagerie as they wrap up a block of cheese, the throaty way they pronounce their ‘r’s–and playing Anthropologist and observing Parisians in their natural habitat was integral to the writing process. I wasn’t just eating all of the buttery carbs the city had to offer, I was eating all of the buttery carbs the city had to offer in the name of book research.

But in all seriousness, the novel is taking shape; a new shape, in some parts, but it’s all making sense and I think I am in a really good spot now going forward. The entire process is so beautiful, was even more beautiful in, and because of, Paris. I’ve relaxed into the story in much the same way I relaxed into Paris. I’m excited to keep writing with those eight weeks under my belt, because I know that experience isn’t even close to done giving me inspiration and direction yet.

Mostly, I want to give myself a little pat on the back for writing 75k words. I’ve never written that much on the same project or story, and it feels momentous. It feels real.

24 thoughts on “So About That Novel…

  1. I’ve been saying this all along, and you’ve pretty much said it yourself… even the time you’re not putting words on the page is so terribly valuable. And even if it doesn’t end up being valuable for this book (although how can it not, right?), you’re out there living your life, and all those moments will seep in and be the meat some day down the road, and even if they’re not? What a great time you had.

    1. It took me almost a year and a half to figure that out — basically until I got to Paris. It is absolutely invaluable and equally as important as the times I am typing away. Thanks, girly. I really did have an amazing time. xo

  2. Forward progress of any kind is progress, regardless of how big or small. Kudos to you for NOT feeling guilty and enjoying every moment of it all.

  3. i concur with lauren and i am glad that you are seeing this too. there is definitely no reason for you to feel guilty at all. writers, above all, have to be observational. and not just with their eyes, but with all their senses. a writer has to be vulnerable in their environments so that one not only sees and observes, but feels and experiences all the emotion around them. even if you weren’t writing and were having fun, it’s still a lot of work to be that open to your surroundings and taking it all in.

    1. God, I adore you. That’s really all there is to it. That was so incredibly kind of you, and so encouraging! I told myself the same thing, that it was book research even if it felt like just wandering around, so I’m happy to hear it from someone else, too. I mean, I could have just been lying to myself ;) xoxo

  4. Sometimes stepping away from a creative project and just living life is exactly what you need to get inspired and motivated again. Absolutely do not feel guilty! Rather than sitting in an apartment listening to the city outside your window, you actually experienced Paris just like the characters in your story. That has to be better for the novel in the long run.

    1. It’s really true. And it isn’t that I lacked the creative energy to devote to the task –I absolutely could have forced myself to sit down and write and would have had plenty to write about– but…but…Paris! Right outside! I can’t be faulted ;) And yes, I tend to agree with you that it will be better for my novel in the long run. xo

  5. No one should ever feel guilty about visiting Paris! Even if you hadn’t written one word it would be worth the experiences. You novel with be infinitely stronger and more genuine because you consciously observed daily life and what your characters would do, think, say, smell, eat, etc etc. I’m looking forward to your novel, especially because the characters will be truthful. That in particular is what I love most about novels: truthful characters.

    1. Thank you, Hillary! Though I think if I hadn’t written a single word, it would have been harder to sell to my fiancé that I was going there for a good reason, haha ;) As it was, I think I’ll take your lovely encouragement and agree with you. I hope it lives up to your expectations in the end! xo

  6. Yay! and don’t feel guilty for experiencing life because you were loving and living in the moment. I think one has the best creative bursts when they balance in adventures.

    1. Ooh, I like thinking of it as an adventure. Thanks, Erika! I know you know firsthand how frustrating and rewarding the creative process can be at times! xo

  7. Congratulations on all those happy moments you experienced, whether they involved writing or not, moreover congratulations for getting to 75k. You are brilliant x

    1. Oh, thank you darling!! I would hardly refer to myself as brilliant, but I will take all the congratulations I can get ;) xoxo

  8. Tu finiras très bientôt ton romain ! Et il sera plus real que jamais. Et bien sûr tu as raison de ne pas te sentir coupable. Tu as travaillé beaucoup et surtout t’appris plein des choses! Les odeurs, le goût d’un éclair à 10 heures du matin, la lumière à Paris….bref, tu a bien fait d’aller passer 2 mois parce que tu ça tu n’est pourra pas l’apprendre dans un livre, il faut le vivre! Et c’est ça que tu as fait non? Moi, j’ai dis, bravo Erin ! xo

    1. Je serai triste quand je finis mon romain, je pense! J’aime ces personnages et leurs histoires. Et Paris, ma plus grande inspiration! Merci, Eva. Il faut le vivre!! C’est vrai! xo

  9. i love, love, love the way your mind works!!!!

    you have all your priorities straight.

    keep this up, and i foresee a fulfilling life ahead, for you. doing what will be “following your bliss.” (joseph cambell’s wise words…)

    lots and lots of gentle hugs,

    1. Thank you so much, Tessa! I will happily accept your kind words, especially since I doubt my priorities are ever actually straight! Merci merci! xo

  10. Hello Erin, I actually can’t wait to read your book ! The storyline, the care with which you make sure to know the places where the story happens… From an exterior point of view at the very least, it seems very promising ! Also, I can’t help but being convinced that your book is gonna be as good as your pictures, and that means positively brilliant haha !
    Anyway, I wanted to write for a very long time and thanks to you, I thought I should start now. I had a rough idea of the plot and the characters and, as a training before digging things deeper, I thought I should try to write a particular scene that I had in mind. Well it took me 2 hours to write less than 500 (very poor) words. Feeling slightly desperate right now… ;)

    1. Hello Victoria!! So good to hear from you, and even better to hear that you are writing! Thank you so much for the kind words; I’ve been at a low point creatively and it’s so sweet to hear encouraging things. The only advice I can really give you, having been chipping away at my novel for two years (!!) now, is that the progress is always slower than you expect, and it’s frustrating beyond belief. An idea will pop into my head for a scene and I’ll mentally craft it until I can sit down at my computer and get it all down…and it turns out to be three lines? In my head it was so much bigger! And fuller! Don’t be put off when that happens, you’re making good progress! I’ll leave you with this quote from Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” which you should read, if you haven’t already, as you embark on this journey of yours:

      “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write [it] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

      Good luck!! xoxo

      1. Erin ! Thanks for your answer which is so nice and really motivating. I love the quote, it’s beautiful and perfectly appropriate.

        I just fear to get fed up with it quickly and let the whole project down (it took me one year between the time I started thinking about the general story and the time I actually started writing it). But I intend to follow your lead and be very tenacious haha ! And well… we’ll see what happens :)

        I’m sorry if you’re not feeling too inspired lately. However, I have this strong belief that things happen when they need to happen and not necessarily when you want them to happen. I mean, sometimes you just have to let things take their time. Even if the whole process can be a bit frustrating, it’s worth it. Just give it a rest for a while and inspiration will come back for sure. But I’m certain you’re already very aware of it though ;)

        Also, how can you focus when you must have so much on your mind at the moment ! Ah you must be so excited by the forthcoming events :) Plein de bonheur pour le futur !

        1. I was so happy to hear from you! I hope you are drinking lots of Mariage Frères tea and eating lots of macarons for me, haha.

          When I first decided to explore the idea for my novel and commit something to paper, I genuinely believed I’d be done in a year. I had so much inspiration! I had a story fully built in my head! I had characters I could see and a plot that excited me. Well. I’d like to say it enthusiasm that was blinding me to the reality of the writing process, rather than pure denial ;) The plot has totally changed, and if I’d rushed the process when I first started, I wouldn’t have discovered where the story was taking me. It’s a long, long process!! Embrace it. You are exactly right when you said, “I mean, sometimes you just have to let things take their time.” How impossible is that, though? Haha, we can commiserate together!

          And yes, the wedding is certainly taking up a good deal of time these days! So many little things to attend to, I don’t think I could write a coherent, meaningful sentence if I tried, haha. Merci beaucoup et bon chance! xo

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