I finally worked out what my novel is about.
This came on the back of some anticipated anxiety ahead of going to a BBQ with some new family friends over the weekend. My passion for writing is not something I volunteer unless directly asked. But I always imagine under what circumstances the subject may arise and how I’d handle it. And with this chat-route programmed into the Google (Conversation) Map app in my head, I played out a scene every writer and wannabe author has encountered in response to the statement, ‘I love to write’:
Them: Oh (as if this is in some way unfortunate). Have you had anything published?
Them: (look of both disappointment and smugness right away apparent) What sort of, um, (searches for a word that might bridge the gap between their understanding of what a writer is and does and what I might do), things do you write about?
Me: Fictional stories, mostly, in a modern, contemporary setting. I’m interested in journeys that see a person pushed far beyond what they thought they could handle and what happens next.
Them: Are you writing anything now?
Me: Yes. I’ve been working on a novel for a little over a year.
Them: (here it comes…) What’s it about?
Me: Um…(pauses, uncertainty and bashfulness writ large upon my face)
I always felt I needed to be able to sum up whatever I am writing into one brief sentence, into a tag-line, or log-line. This statement needs to convey the totality of my novel and my inability to do so (see my previous post about the dreaded synopsis) confirms my failure as a writer and communicator.
Not that I’m in such an insecure place as a writer at the moment. But now and then doubt creeps in.
In fact, while this situation was playing out in my head I happened to be washing dishes, the sudsy water especially hot. I’ve decided that washing dishes is akin to hot showers and the link to creativity and idea-generation. Any act that can sufficiently absorb us and consume our primary attention can be a godsend when it comes to releasing repressed epiphanies.
In the middle of my gentlest attempts to clean our best champagne flutes, it came to me, what my novel is about.
For so long, I’ve being trying to formulate it in the following way:
My novel is about [this].
‘This’ being the one singular and overriding theme or purpose of the story.
As I rinsed excess soapy bubbles off the base and stem of the glasses, it all became so evident. My novel is actually about [this] and [this], and [this] too. There’s a few other things I could throw in, but hey, for right now, it’s a good place to start.
It’s what any novel is about. One sentence just won’t do it. And it doesn’t have to.
It was while watching the film Interstellar a year ago when I saw how the many tectonic plates that comprised the world created by writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan fused together to form one larger world. A world where there was not one prevailing idea, but many, all co-existing, each ebbing and flowing as the story unfolded:
- What does having hope, making a promise and faith in others cost us?
- When are we best served by being brave or cautious?
- Love as truly a tangible, observable phenomenon
- To be able to move on (in the case of the movie, survive) we have to be willing to let go and lose something
On some level of comprehension, in that cinema, it made perfect sense to me. Though it’s taken another 12 months before I’ve been really able to absorb this understanding and make it manifest in my own writing.
So much of my own writing journey over the past 4 years has been about unlearning what I thought I knew, then humbling myself and my presumed abilities so that I can learn anew what’s really important about writing, and myself as a writer and person.
As I left the glasses to drain and went to work on the breakfast plates, this all felt very big. And so I did what I’m learning to do more often. I took a breath, dried my hands, grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down a few notes. Then I finished the rest of the dishes, a little happy with myself, a little awed by how much I still have to learn.