Guest Post by Eros-Alegra Clarke
Seven years ago, when my husband and I announced our engagement, we were counseled by an older couple to develop a habit of ‘couch time’ for our relationship; a time each day where we sat and talked. We laughed and nodded and said, “Yes, of course.” The couple, who had three children said, “No, really, we’re serious.” Now that we have our own two kids and a third one on the way, we understand. We know how seductive exhaustion can be, how easy it is to turn on the television and tune out. It is tempting to believe that our marriage is self-maintaining, that it will continue to write itself the way we want it to.
I have come to believe that crafting a novel requires the same sort of commitment to couch time as a marriage does. It is a different type of relationship maintenance than that required by short stories. Working on a short story is a brief and passionate affair. The short story muse can knock on my window in the middle of the night and whisper, “Let’s go walking beneath the stars.” And I follow that flash of brilliance and let it unfold because it will only last so long. Sleep can be caught up on; small issues can be obsessed over; spontaneity held in high regard because at the end of our time together, we can retreat to our separate lives. The revision happens without children in the background jumping on the furniture. I can focus on the scene at hand, perfecting it without worrying about how the choices I have made will show up 10 or 20 scenes into the story ahead. A short story is like taking care of someone else’s child for a few days. I can be full of patience. I wonder and delight in the child’s mischief. I can buy some quiet time by feeding them cookies after midnight without worrying I have just turned the cute little Gizmos into Gremlins.
A novel, from the first chapter, is a marriage with children and a mortgage. It requires the balancing act of being in the inspiration of the moment while tending to all of the daily responsibilities. I have to make sure the characters, like my children, are fed, bathed, happy, played with, growing well, learning the lessons they should be learning. I get up in the middle of the night when one of them cries. I make sure the plot is a solid home for them to live in. I pay the bills, keep the car running, clean the toilets, do the laundry, and agonize about important decisions for the future. And at some point each day, I need to sit with the story and talk. I dig out the issues. I listen carefully. I edit what no longer belongs. I try to be honest. I have to let everything else go and tune into the heart of the relationship.
The work is intense, but as is often said about parenthood, “It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it is also the most rewarding.” I love the intimacy of working on a novel. Looking back over the rough drafts is like tracing the developing lines in my husband’s face. They are a roadmap of the life we have chosen together. The daily hard work, even when I am complaining every step of the way, is a testimony of how deeply I love the world I am creating.
Eros-Alegra Clarke is currently writing her first novel under the mentorship of her agent. In the meantime, she has been slowly building publications including a story “Naming Shadows” in the literary journal Bitter Oleander. A wife, mother of two (with a third on the way), and graduate student, Alegra contributes to Maria Schneider’s website Editor Unleashed for writers: http://editorunleashed.com and can be found blogging about life, writing, and everything in between at: http://alegra22.wordpress.com .