The Novel The Novel The Novel

by Salvatore Pane

I’ve been digging around through my writing notebooks recently and came upon something (relatively) interesting. A timestamp. March 11, 2009. It’s the day I started writing my novel. It was two years ago today.

I’m not Amy Whipple or Katie Coyle. They’re always running around bursting forth with their feelings. They have feelings on all sorts of subjects, and they are always insightful and intelligent. I usually try and bury most of my feelings and instead think about Kanye West or the New York Knicks or Spider-Man. But really, I think this novel has been kind of the outlet for all my thoughts and ideas and (ugh, I guess) feelings about the world and my existence for the past two years.

Cathy Day used to tell us in writing workshops that most writers are either sprinters or long distance runners (short story writers or novelists), and I’ve always felt more at home in the second camp (the only way I can even write flash fiction is to imagine a novel existing in my head and writing the four or five most interesting scenes). And it’s been so, so comforting over the last two years to be able to return to this novel, this world, these characters, over and over again. No matter what changed in my life (MFA graduation, relationship hyjinx, first year teaching anxiety, family members battling cancer, friends leaving my life, friends entering my life) the novel was always there, fluid, waiting for me to come home. Over time, the characters within started to seem more real to me than actual people I know in my everyday life. I can see these people more clearly, understand them more. I feel guilty when they have to go through pain.

For two years so much of my thinking has been wrapped up in this novel. I wrote a lot of stories during the second year while taking breaks from editing, but always in the back of my mind was the novel, the novel, the novel, even though when people asked me what it was about I would stutter and stare and cough (It’s about Facebook. No, it’s about this guy. And it’s set against the backdrop of the Obama campaign. But, it’s not really about that. It’s about digital stuff? It’s a love story? Kanye shows up? It’s a novel. I don’t know what I’m going to call it. What do you think I should call it?).

There’s just something reassuring to have that world waiting for me at the desk each and every day. And I’ve never been good at ending anything in my life, but I know this relationship’s almost over, that I have changed and the novel has changed and I’m not the same person I was when I started writing it and that’s ok and for the best and now it’s time to put this thing away even though it will always be there to be revisited. But I’m so drawn to that feeling, of world building, of having that other existence and set of people you can slip inside of that I honestly can’t imagine not having some version of this. And already, I’ve bought a new notebook, have already begun scribbling new notes, new characters, new outlines, random items that will hopefully add up to something more. And I guess that’s all I can really do.

Mostly, I’m aware of how lucky I’ve been and continue to be. My agent, Jenni Ferrari-Adler, is the best. She’s so generous and smart with manuscripts and she also represents Emma Straub who I love, love, love. I turned in my revision of the book this week and will probably do another light one before all is said and done. But I think the major, all-consuming work is done. It’s done. It’s done. And it really hasn’t hit me yet, but the feelings I’m most cognizant of are relief and gratitude.

That I wrote it. That I was allowed to write.

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