On Sunday it rained heavily. Driving to Connecticut to visit my family was like swimming underwater. Our tinny little Zip car hydroplaned slowly up Interstate 95. The windshield wipers swung frantically back and forth, overwhelmed by the tire spray from an army of semis. My grip on the steering wheel was white knuckled. You can do this, I told myself.
In the back seat my six-year-old got car sick.
More than anything I wanted a clear view of the road ahead. Visibility was down to thirty yards. The peripheral world was grayed out, like a computer screen on which nothing could be read or written, the machine frozen and dead. I was doomed to be stuck behind trucks and SUV’s. With the lane markers no more than a ghostly suggestion, I could only chase the red tail lights ahead as if driving was an endless trust fall.
As an hour-and-a-half trip stretched to three, I could no longer visualize our destination. We were seat-belted in time, the road ahead slipping in an out of focus with each swipe of the wipers. Green signs showed us exits to places we didn’t want to go. There was nothing but the soggy grind onward.
Fast forward to today. It’s New Year’s Day, clear and cold in Brooklyn. From our loft’s wrap-around windows I can see for miles. Up in the sky evenly-spaced jets make an orderly descent for their final approach to LaGuardia Airport. There’s a coffee mug in my hand. I can breathe.
There’s all the time in the world today. It’s a day for resolutions and lists, every item of which feel doable. The slate’s wiped clean. The calendar is hopeful expanse just waiting to be filled with shining accomplishments and earned satisfaction. All is possible. Nothing is too difficult. The view ahead is clear.
As you look on this day at the novel you’re currently writing, which feeling best describes where you are? Are you grinding down a rainy interstate, unable to see but a short distance ahead? Or can you see for miles, visualizing not only the final draft but its effect on readers and its place in the literary landscape itself?
Today’s a good day to get off the highway. Give yourself some time to stretch. Have a coffee. Dream a little. Summon your ambition. Feel your power. The novel you’re working on has the potential for greatness. Today’s the day to discover it, own it, and plan for it.
Here are some New Year’s Day questions to help you get there:
- When readers finish your novel, what will they feel most strongly? Which event in the novel should most strongly provoke that feeling? How can you enhance that event to guarantee that result in readers?
- Write a glowing review of your novel. What is praised? What is unexpected? How does it break new ground? Find six ways in which to ensure that your dream review will in fact be written by someone.
- What makes novels in your category weak, derivative and predictable? Catalogue those elements then take a look at your own manuscript. (Come on, be honest.) Work out changes that will counter your readers’ expectations.
- What makes a novel a classic? List the qualities. How can you enact each of those qualities in your pages?
As writers grind down the rainy highway of a draft, it’s easy to feel lost. How nice it would be if writing was always a journey beneath clear skies, with no traffic and no speed limits. It can be like that, if you let it. Slide off the interstate for a bit. Breathe. Dream. Draw up a list. It’s New Year’s Day. For this one day, at least, the view ahead is clear.
What are your New Year’s resolutions…not for your writing career, or for your process, but for your novel itself?