There were certainly moments when I asked myself this very thing—especially when I was a few chapters in and my characters were about as exciting and complicated as astro turf. However, when something I'm working on starts to gain traction and the characters, rather than standing in line waiting their turn to make it to the page, begin splitting off in their own directions to do their quirky things—one guy takes a leak in the middle of a street at midnight, another can't stop applying for a spot on The Cupcake Wars—I honestly start to have a blast. It's fun. I like writing.
By the way I just now thought of the guy taking the leak and The Cupcake Wars—they aren't in Can You See Anything Now? But perhaps another one, no?
All of this said, writing a novel—or book of any kind—is very hard work. And it's important to develop your craft first. In other words, learn to write—and write well. if you're pleased with your craft, with the way you write, an empty page isn't something to scare you but an opportunity. And then it's a matter of keeping your butt in the chair. No discipline, no book.
I write in the mornings. I get up and go through my routine: 1. Bowl of cereal or granola bar. 2. Cup of coffee. 3. Sit down. 4. Pray. 5. Read chapter in Bible. 6. Open computer and write. Easy peasy. Oh, and no laundry or brushing of the teeth or email or that sort of nonsense. I stay off line. And yes, it's true, I don't brush my teeth before I write.
Personally, I don't use an outline. I read somewhere that Faulkner began his novels with an image, for example, a girl climbing a tree in a dress, a boy standing under the tree able to see her underwear, and I find myself doing the same thing. My novel, Can You See Anything Now? began when I imagined a 42 year old woman trying to drown herself in a lake. It was a clear night and there was a canoe floating around. As I thought about this image I couldn't help but think it would be a hard thing to do, drown yourself in a lake. Kind of funny, but then also sad.
There's a lake in the neighborhood I live in now. It's a small lake and I pass it every afternoon when I take a walk. I usually try to pray while I'm walking but then my mind will wander because there is so much beauty around me. About half a mile into my walk there's a short bridge that crests at a hill and once over it a valley suddenly appears and you see the lake, like an enormous silvery puddle, before you.
There's also a swimming raft in the middle of it. So there it was, the beginning of Can You See Anything Now?
I was young when I began to write. When I was about three years old I drew a baby carriage. My mother saved it because it was a three dimensional drawing and everyone was all no way! over it. I did end up being pretty good at painting and drawing, but I loved to write too. My mother also saved a poem I wrote when I was around seven: In this little box of mine/you'll find a feather, very fine./an olive from an olive tree/a mirror that looks just like me . . . Oh Pulitzer! Oh Booker Prize!
But I was horrible at math—I mean terrible. I failed algebra and was in tears during summer school as my teacher leaned over my desk and tried to explain fractions to me. I don't know my times tables. I have to count out months on my fingers to remember what comes next. Military time is far beyond my skill set.
So I was a way odd kid. One time in preschool I was sitting for circle time and as the teacher was talking I tilted my head back and looked at the ceiling and my mouth hung open, my jaw slack so my tongue just kind hung there half out of my mouth. I must have been like that for a long time because eventually the teacher came over and asked if I was all right.
And while I wouldn't recommend staring at the ceiling in a corner Starbucks, I do think writing fiction is about becoming fascinated with the ordinary. I think writing fiction has a lot to do with seeing, observing. Conversations. Images. People and places and things.
But too much self disclosure perhaps.
Oh, and FYI: I'm also working on a memoir that will be published in 2018. It's about when our son overdosed on heroin. And it's about me.