Leaping and Creeping to a Finished Novel

My entire life has been about taking leaps. I tend to blindly jump forward without a lot of thought. In college, overnight I decided to switch my major from business to film. When I decided to apply for my MFA, I quit my job in New York before I had been accepted, telling my parents, “If I don’t get in, I’m going to move somewhere cheaper, take a part-time job, and write!” (Not a plan my parents were excited about, but luckily for the sake of family harmony, I ended up in school in Seattle.) For three months the summer before grad school, I drove around the country, just experiencing life. (Again, not a plan my parents were thrilled about; “Why don’t you get one of those car phones?” my mom suggested, but I was having none of that weird passing fad of “cellular” phones. I really hope my own kids don’t stress me out like I did my parents.) After grad school, a six-week trip abroad turned into an eight-month trip abroad. My job at Amazon was accepted on a whim. Put an offer on my current house without my husband ever seeing it. Got pregnant with my second child about two months before we were going to start trying.

Forethought is not something I’m known for.

Which, believe it or not, can be a good thing when it comes to writing. Many writers are paralyzed when they see the blank page. But not me. I jump in, eyes closed, and just start putting words down on the paper (or screen, as the case may be). Sometimes these beginnings fizzle out, and I’m left with a few sentences in a Word doc. But sometimes they explode and I end up with a full novel in Scrivener.

My writing directory is a graveyard of abandoned pieces, yet nothing ever truly dies. On more than one occasion, I’ve gone back and rediscovered something that now resounds with me, bits that have become stories or essays or a line of a novel. In some cases, the pieces are worthless except they give me a window into my life at a certain time.

A graveyard of writing
Bits and pieces kept, not suprisingly, in a folder called Bits and Pieces, with writing dating back to the late 1990s.

Taking a leap, for me, is the best way to get going. Just start wherever I feel like starting and then work from there.

One of the biggest challenges for me, though, has been to learn when to stop leaping. When to start giving careful thought to what I’m working on. Every rough draft I write is me trusting the process and getting the ideas down. But then my heart says, “Okay, our work here is done. Let’s go spit something else up,” yet my brain says, “Not so fast. This piece here now needs a lot of work.” This is where the plodding starts. The long days of revising. The throat-killing process of reading the entire novel out loud, multiple times. The vulnerable part of submitting to my writing group and really listening to their feedback. This part is the antithesis of the leaping stage; it might be best called the creeping stage.

To be a good writer, one must make broad leaps of faith, of trust, of heart, of whatever you’d like to call it, as you say, “I know I can get those words on the page!” But it’s also necessary to pull back, to creep along, to say to yourself, “And now it’s time to make those words perfect.”

Taking a leap. Creeping along. The two go hand-in-hand when it comes to writing.

Now to make sure my kids behave better than I did and don’t do anything that’s going to give me more gray hairs than I already have.

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Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at www.jennifersbrown.com.

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Author: Jennifer S. Brown

Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at www.jennifersbrown.com.