’ve just started writing a novel. Let’s see if it takes. I’ve never actually written a novel before but I have translated several of them from Italian into English, which means I am familiar with the odd time-space continuum that novels inhabit and create in both writer and reader. It’s a long-term project. I have no deadline. But I don’t want to make it my life, either. My expectations are limited to a basic tenet: write every day. Short or long, a paragraph, a chapter, an idea — just keep writing.
I’ve read a lot about writing over the years. Theories are fun. Pithy quotations on writing are handy to turn to. But theories just don’t stick in my brain. I need to be in action. It’s true that most of my reading has been about translation: Walter Benjamin, Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, Tim Parks, but I’ve also read writers on writing: Kenneth Koch, William Zinsser. It’s like motivational writing: nice to read, but then real life sets in. Bad habits return. Like procrastination.
To be a strong translator you need to know how to read carefully, critically, and patiently. A translator also has to read imaginatively, and hear the writer’s voice. She has to understand tone. I trust this skill will help me in my writing. First hand experience teaching writing and literature has helped me understand characters, structure, style, flow, plot twists, and so on. This should help me craft a well-written story.
So, I’ve got the credentials. Big deal. On their own they mean nothing.
All of this is to explain how, in writing my novel, I won’t adopt any high falutin’ ideas. I am not taking a tack. I do not expect this book to be the next Great American Novel. I will be lucky if it gets published, and read. But for now, I just need to build it.
So far, I have nine chapters. Some of them are only one page long. But I want to get the story line down. It’s a noir. It’s set in Italy. And that’s all I’ll say right for now about the plot. No giveaways.
I am enjoying the sensation of having a certain amount of control over the characters but I am also ready to let them take over. The trickiest bit so far has been making sure that all the inventions line up into a nice web. It has to be a good lie. A good story. A credible lie.
Unusual for me — and perhaps the result of having exercised my writing muscle more over the past year thanks to this column and work for other publications — I am not worrying obsessively about style and syntax, to the extent that I can’t get started. Later I know I will indulge my inner ear. But for now, the brain — not the heart — is my guide.
This alone is a good feeling. I think it shows a certain kind of maturity. I’m ready to engage with my reader, not just with my neuroses. I could give a hoot whether certain people (whose judgment has restrained me until now) like it or not.
Updates will be forthcoming. I promise you, my reader, to make it as good as I can. For you. This is my job.