When my husband and I finally got back to New York after our trip, I knew I'd have to reopen my novel and face the same set of problems that had been making me crazy when I left. To refresh: I was about halfway through the novel, and I was trying to figure out how to show a slow change in the relationship between my main character and the woman he was dating. (I should clarify I knew from when I first started the novel how its plot would play out overall — the arc of it — but I didn't know what specific set of scenes was going to take me there.)
My last attempt was to write a chapter in which I had made the woman character confront my protagonist while the two of them were out for dinner. She wanted to define their relationship. But when I reread it, the scene seemed "talky." Issues were being introduced in dialog instead of being dramatized. It seemed inartful, kind of flimsy and not very effective. There were a few lines I liked here and there, but I knew by the time I got back from the honeymoon that I had to throw out the bulk of the chapter and try again, with a whole different approach. Not that I had any great ideas.
I remember being very glad of a full day, in mid-September, to work on the novel — a day with no tutoring appointments. I think it was a Wednesday. I sat down to work in my pajamas in the morning. I'm not sure if I'd gotten dressed by eleven that night. It wasn't that the writing just flowed and flowed. It was more like I knew that this uninterrupted day was the best shot I had for a while in getting real work done, so I'd better use it for all it was worth. By that point, things were beginning to feel dire. I was afraid I was permanently stuck, that I'd have to give up on this novel.
That day I played and played with what I had, rearranging the bits and pieces I liked from previous attempts to write the chapter. Instead of a scene at a restaurant, centered on a conversation between the two main characters, I decided to allow myself to write it as a long internal monolog from Nate, which on the one hand seemed less-than-artful — but I hoped if I got what he was feeling precisely right, I could then think better about how to present it more effectively.
It worked. By the time I went to bed that night I had the bones of a structure for the chapter, and in the next few days I fleshed it out.
Something else happened as well. All these ideas seemed almost as if they had been unlocked. They started to flow. I was hearing bits of dialog. Suddenly, the scenes needed to take me from approximately a point halfway through the novel to a point 90 percent of the way through began flashing through my mind in bursts. My head felt like the inside of a popcorn popper, and the pops were coming fast and furious.
A period of hyperproductivity ensued. Perhaps this was a mild form of mania, I don't know. I know I was a little irritable and resentful whenever I had to do anything but work on my novel. Standing in front of students' apartment buildings, I'd scrawl notes for bits of dialog in the margins of my SAT book before sighing loudly as I headed upstairs. I didn't sleep particularly well — I felt wired most of the time — and when I finally had to stop writing, when it was time for my husband and me to, say, go to a friend's house for dinner, I'd need a drink (or two) to calm my mind — otherwise I'd just be fixated on the book and the characters the whole time.
On the other hand, within six weeks I finished the first draft of the novel. Keep in mind that it had taken me two years to write the first half. It was unbelievable. And other than the fact that I'd felt a bit keyed up for those weeks, nothing terrible had happened. I continued to tutor, no matter how annoyed I felt privately about having to tear myself from my book. I didn't become an alcoholic. I didn't alienate my new husband. I just finished the novel.
Of course, I would wind up spending another few months revising the book before I sent it to agents, and there would be more revisions after that — but that is a story for tomorrow...
Read Parts One, Two, Three, and Five of "A Trip to Portland; or, The Long and Convoluted Story of How My Novel Came to Be" by Adelle Waldman