The Great American Novel

I used to dream of writing the great American novel. I remember one of the first dates with my husband, the one where you talk about your hopes and dreams, and where you see yourself in 10 years. I said I wanted to write, and at the time I meant fiction. I wanted to be the next J.K. Rowling. Creating characters that spoke to people and setting them on adventures that took my readers away from reality and yet somehow taught them how to really live. Rowling may be British, but I identified deeply with her personality and her writing. I wanted to speak to the human spirit through my prose, as she does. I wanted to become a part of American vernacular.

For years I started a chapter, then stopped. Massive writers block, deepening insecurity, and an utter lack of inspiration keeping me from ever getting past the first few pages. A sense of the magnitude of what I wished to write made it impossible to actually write anything. None of my characters felt “real,” none of their trials truly challenging, none of the plots lines were immersive or transportive. I took a few classes, and although I could arrange words on paper well enough, I could never find the inspiration to transform those words into another world filled with characters you could call friends. I waited and waited for my train ride inspiration, to be struck with an idea so strong, a story so important, that it was as if the boy wizard strode into my life fully formed, as Rowling reports he did so many years ago.  But that moment, that inspiration has never come.

And yet, over the years I have found that the writing I am drawn to is less and less fiction, and more biography, prose, and commentary on a well-lived life. Maybe it is the rise of an internet culture, where blogs and articles make up a majority of our interaction with words. Maybe it is my fascination with others who hold similar passions: runners and writers, women and mothers with a wry wit and a desire to explore all facets of themselves and life. The pull to not take life at face value, but to delve deeper into what it means to be human. And to find within ourselves stories as dark and deep, and as exciting and challenging, as we ever find in a novel. Maybe it is simply the consolidation of time, these days my reading is squeezed between drop off and pick up, laundry and meal prep, and the ever-changing demands of modern life. Balancing being a mom, wife, housemaker, runner, writer, and more,  leaves little time to get lost in an epic novel. I don’t have the luxury of reading into the wee hours for “just one more page.” It’s easier to consume my written material in bites and pieces read in the moments between. And yet in those moments I can find writers of all ages and all paths of life that write because it is who they are. And in their writing they are so much more.

I identify with these writers, whether they are speaking through a self-made blog or a published book. Their words ring true to me, and teach me that being a writer is more than the great American novel. There are more ways to contribute to a thought-driven, literary society. I may never create evocative and impactful fiction, but I can express myself in a way that explores the human spirit. I can write in a way that is meaningful to those around me. I can contribute to a written culture that extends back centuries and pushes forward into the digital age, changing its venue but staying true to the nature of word craft. I can still write, even if my words never appear on a printed page, bound between covers. And maybe someday, if I write well and often, what I write will be more than just a blog, more than just words written (hopefully) well. While I may never write the great American novel, or any novel for that matter, maybe my writing can still offer something to this world that no other writer before me has done. And in doing so, I can be a writer worth reading simply because she has something to say.