I have almost a dozen trees outside my window, the tallest standing at least ten metres high. It struck me, while I was lying on my bed and putting off opening the first draft of Sarai, that a novel is like a tree to me.
All those thousands of leaves (words?) anchored to their branches (chapters?), which are anchored to the trunk (of plot?), which is supported by strong yet invisible roots (themes!). Who knows how deep they go – the point is they hold the tree up against the harshest storms (of criticism?)*. These trees are calming yet interesting: serene, they have nothing to prove because they're old and know they belong here.
The novels I love and admire are like these trees: strong, graceful, whole.
And someone telling me to write a novel is basically saying: Go build a tree.
That 'someone' is of course a part of myself. The ambitious part that wants a Jag in my driveway even though I don't drive.
Go build a tree? It seems a bizarre and unachievable task. I may have a pile of sticks and some half-rotten leaves, but any Frankenstein's monster* I construct out of those bits would look pretty bleak. I couldn't call that odd thing a novel any more than I could call a scarecrow a person.
I never believed I could write a novel until the 29th of November last year, when I looked back at my NaNoWriMo attempt and realised I'd written one. Maybe it wasn't just selfish ambition – it'd be nice if Sarai was a bestseller, but even nicer if the people who read it (even if it's just the four poor souls I bribe into beta-reading) would enjoy it. And if they don't? If they give me the stinkeye for wasting their time? It's dangerous for the ego, this whole writing thing. I don't know what's scarier, that the whole thing might fail – or that it might succeed and people would actually expect even more from me next time.
So here I am, with my first-draft monster made of sticks and leaves in front of me, wanting me to bring it to life. I'm rubbing the paddles together and shouting CLEAR, not knowing who I'd like to electrocute more, my novel or myself.
But maybe if I love it enough to siphon more and more life into it, cutting away the dead bits and supporting the scrawny trunk with one of those little splints you get at the garden centre, it'll start to grow. And maybe once it's finished, a reader I've never even met would download it, fly through it in a day, throw it down and and inexplicably yell, “It's alive!”
*I promise the actual novel doesn't have so many cumbersome mixed, extended flora / zombie metaphors.