– by Sophfronia Scott
I was walking around my yard in a bit of a daze. The day before I had finished the novel revision I’d been working on for months. Like the crazy woman I am, instead of resting I was trying to organize my thoughts for the next novel. But I felt like I didn’t know how to steady myself in the real world after being in my novel’s world almost nonstop for so long.
I decided to go for a walk in the woods at Fairfield Hills, a campus-like park near my home. As I headed for the hiking trail I saw a friend from my church—he’s my co-teacher, in fact, for the 8 th and 9 th grade Sunday school class I’m teaching this year. He was there to go jogging and he stopped to tease me, saying he almost didn’t recognize my face because I wasn’t smiling. I said, “This is my thinking face. This is a thinking walk.” Then I told him I’d just finished my novel.
“Oh!” he said. “Then you’ve just lost a lover.”
I totally didn’t expect such words from him: he’s a retired Marine, a guy who’s as button down, spit and polish as you can get. But there was an odd truth to what he said. It made me think of the monk and writer Thomas Merton—I’m in the process of reading all of his journals—and at one point he writes that he’s missing his novel. Of course those were the days when a writer only had one or two precious hard copies of a manuscript and once you sent it out it was gone until the publisher returned it. He said he missed his book; he wanted it back. He spoke of it like it was an old friend. I didn’t think of myself as attached to my book in this way but began to wonder about it as I continued my walk.
Then a phone call on my cell—it was a new Vermont College of Fine Arts student, about to embark on his first residency in the MFA in writing program. He wanted advice from me, a recent graduate, about how to get the most out of the program. I asked him about his aspirations, how he saw himself as a writer, what he wanted to write. He told me he’d written short pieces but wanted to develop the skill of writing longer work. He’d started novels but had never been able to finish them. He said he often lost interest in the story and wasn’t sure if it would be interesting to anyone else.
I spoke and I realized what I was saying to him was the answer to where we both were—he starting to write and me having completed a big project.
I said, “You’ve got to love what you’re writing.”
This is so true. A novel takes such a long time—months and years. How else can you stick with it unless you truly loved your story and loved your characters? Where is the fun and energy to keep you going if you don’t love what you’re writing? I know it’s tempting to want to follow publishing trends and write in whatever genre happens to be hot at the moment. But if you don’t love the work it will be a punishing exercise and the results will show it. The reader can tell. If there’s no affection a reader can put a book down and forget about it as easily as you might during the writing process. But if a reader can sense love it will feel as though they’ve stumbled on a secret, and he or she will feel closer to you and your work because of it. One of the best critiques I received on my novel manuscript—and believe me, it kept me going when the revision process got tough—came from a reader who said, “I can tell you love these characters.”
Interesting side note: This same reader also said, “I could feel your love of baseball.” I smiled at that because while I watch the World Series every year, I don’t have a particular love of baseball. However I have a dear friend who does, and I wrote the baseball parts with him in mind thinking I wanted him to enjoy it whenever he read the book. So I was channeling someone else’s love, but the love was still there.
That day I stood there in the woods with my phone to my ear watching the truth of what my church friend had said unfold before me. I thought I was walking around out there because I was trying to think through the start of my next book, but what I was really trying to figure out was this: how do I fall in love again? It almost seems impossible to do but I know it must be possible. I suppose have to be patient with myself, and patient with my heart. I’m thinking now if I court the new novel gently, putting in the time I know it requires, the love will manifest.
What will you do to find the love in your next piece of writing?