Three years of The Next Novel
I keep checking my math. Three years can’t possibly be right, but it’s true. I was so optimistic in January 2021 that within a year or so I’d have the next novel. In some ways it feels like a lot has happened since then, but I also feel like I am still at the very beginning, embarking upon the glass house novel.
I hesitate to say that 2024 is the year I will finish the glass house novel, because if I’ve learned anything, it’s that how long a project takes is, to a large extent, out of my control. My job is to keep working at it and to stay open to it. But I do know I’m yearning to go deep in that project this year, and that’s a good sign.
To mark these three years of The Next Novel, here’s a look at the highlights.
Even when I’ve been pulled away from the glass house novel, I’ve never stopped collecting inspiration for it, and this newsletter is sometimes a repository. Kogonada’s Columbus, the Edith Farnsworth House, old Rockford photos, Tinker Swiss Cottage, the Maison de Verre, Lotte, WINDOWS. Yes, I keep a novel mood board.
I workshopped a chunk of the novel at the Tin House Summer Workshop.
There may have been some diversions. Early on, I knew I wasn’t ready to tell the story of this novel, but I also didn’t want that to keep me from trying. So I tried to get at it from weird angles. I wrote it as a blog, I wrote it as a screenplay. I continually tried and failed to plot it out. I kept a sketchbook and started taking photographs. I worked with an astrologer to understand my narrator’s natal chart and what it means for the story. At multiple points I trashed everything I’d written and started from scratch.
Writing as play, taking the long way. Whatever you want to call it, nothing about this process has been straightforward, but it all feels necessary. I’ve now rewritten some of that early screenplay dialogue as full scenes, and it’s better for having been dialogue first. :shrug:
Other projects, other milestones
While the glass house novel has been under construction, I’ve taken (sometimes long) breaks to work on other projects. As you know if you’ve been following along, the pond novel — a more light-hearted, collaborative project — mostly took priority in 2023.
It’s interesting, looking back, how these two manuscripts have long been in conversation. It was fun when the answer to the problems of one could be found in the other. But now looking at this letter from 2021, I see that Anna and the pond have been a presence here for quite a while.
And there have been other writing milestones, not related to either novel. I read with some incredibly talented writers at an AWP Philly off-site. One of my short stories was featured on a very fun podcast. I participated in 1,000 Words of Summer every year. (The glass house novel actually got its start during 1,000 Words 2020!) I published a bunch of short work. Most importantly to me, whatever project I was focused on, I showed up to the page pretty much every day, even if it was only for five minutes. The consistency does count for something.
And, of course, life
All of this happened against the backdrop of a continued pandemic, a gut renovation that somehow involved moving four times, the young years of my child. He was only 18 months old when I committed to keeping this weekly public log. I look back on myself then and I admire the gutsiness!
So much life has happened in three years. My grandpa died. My grandma died. I was on my own rollercoaster health journey. I’ve been trying to figure out how to be a mom, and it’s only now, right this moment, that I realize how much motherhood is a subtext of The Next Novel. Something to write about in 2024.