on my bookshelf + the cruel novel-writing process that makes you want to gouge your eyes out

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Believe me when I say that at this very moment I want to gouge out my eyes with a spoon. After spending two weeks writing and editing twelve pages from one of the most difficult chapters I’ve ever written, I’ve come to realize that a single line can change everything. I’ve never written from a child’s point-of-view {except for when I was a child writing short, dark stories}, perhaps for the sole reason that your range is limited. You’re in this magnificent box which can be made truly beautiful by the fact that a child still has the capacity for newness and wonder, but at the same time a child’s voice presents a technical nightmare. I can’t move the story swiftly; my perception is limited, my understanding of the world around me has to be crude and unsophisticated, aided only by a child parroting the adult voices around them. Those voices fill in the blanks, and I’ve had to rely on them in order to create scenes that were truly horrifying for more reasons than a ten-year-old could possibly understand.

And then I wrote that one line because it felt right intuitive, and then I felt a sharp pain because I knew I’d have to revisit the 116 pages I just perfected to make sure timelines synch, and more importantly, this revelation isn’t forced onto the story.

This is a long-winded way of saying that this book is hard. Damn hard. What is that someone once said relating novel-writing to having a child? That you forget about the pain long after the magic takes form and reveals itself in its definitive shape.

All the while, it’s imperative that I read. Reading keeps me sharp, gives me ideas, teaches me how other authors navigate structure and the terrain of unreliability. I read poems because they remind me that a thing isn’t simply one thing. A pool can be a structure that is filled with water, or it could be a coffin. A barnacle can be a crustacean that affixes itself on ships and wet rocks, or it can a symbol of unhealthy attachment. Poems remind me that language must be reinvented, that the economy of every line is tantamount. Take Emily Dickinson’s The Gorgeous Nothings. I discovered the coffee table book of Dickinson’s back-of-the-envelope poetry in a bookstore and was fascinated by how she was able to challenge rhyme and meter and our fundamental understanding of ourselves in just a few scribbled lines. I’ve read through this gorgeous collection and found myself excited for wordplay.

Right now, I’m reading Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply, a magnificent novel that centers on the lives of three strangers converging. The prose is swift, smart and economic, and it’s teaching how to move fluidly through narrative, as structure is something with which I struggle in writing. Please know the irony of this does not escape me.

While reading for autodidactic means is always helpful, it’s not necessarily fun. So when I crave joy, wry humor and audacious wit, Gary Shteyngart’s novels win me over every time. His recent memoir, Little Failure is a departure from his novels in the sense that the author’s vulnerability is visceral, real, and I can relate to someone who seeks words as a salve for pain and a means to redefine a world in which you don’t seem to fit.

Finally, I’ve ordered Susan Minot’s Thirty Girls because Susan Minot, and on strong recommendation from several friends, I scored Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, because cultivating smart habits this year will keep me grounded.

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