Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Genre, New Process

Standing at the sun room windows, looking out at the backyard's monochromatic landscape, I contemplated my plight. I've been writing short stories for several years. There are dozens of them stored in my portfolio, each more tightly written and higher impacting than the last. And now I'm writing a novel. A novel. I feel like someone switched off the light and left me groping and disoriented in abysmal darkness. My chin dropped and my gaze fell to the peace lily beside me. I stared wide-eyed. Was that a flower forming on one of the tallest fronds? My disbelief was absolute; never in the three and a half years since it was carried over the threshhold had I been able to bring it to flower. I blinked to be sure I wasn't hallucinating.

In the arms of a friend the day she offered her housewarming present, the lily had boasted three small flowers. But its decline began that day. Within a week, the flowers had fallen away and the leaves were browned at their tips. My mother had once told me when a peace lily isn't doing well, put it in a closet. It made sense, sort of, since I knew the peace lily was a shade plant that thrived on a rain forest floor. So I repotted the plant and put it in a corner away from the windows. It didn't improve. Over the next two years, I moved it from location to location, starved it of water at times and over-watered it at others. Another friend said tropical plants like "moisture" not "water," and suggested I mist the leaves every day. After a while, I decided the plant just didn't like me. I resigned myself to its demise.

One day as I repotted another plant, hubby said I should put the peace lily in the window. Mom's advice floated through my mind, but I ignored it. Why not? I thought. Maybe that'll finish it off once and for all. A few days later, the lily's last remaining three fronds appeared slightly perkier than before. I pretended I didn't notice, in case the plant was toying with me. Some wicked plot hatched in vengeance. I watered it that Saturday along with the others on a once-a-week feeding schedule. By the next Saturday, new shoots had pushed their heads through the black soil. I took it as a peace lily peace offering. It began to thrive, and we've been friends ever since.

Still, in the last year of our renewed friendship, I'd never seen a flower! As I stared at it, I started to think about the long, hard road I'd walked with that plant. I'd struggled; I'd tried new things that failed. I almost gave up along the way. I listened to a lot of people's advice before someone pointed me in the right direction. It occurred to me that my transition from short stories to novels may turn out resembling my peace lily experience.

Right now, I feel pretty lost. I have twenty chapters written, though they're drooping and the edges are browned and curled. But, I know my novel project will blossom because I'm willing to do the work, explore the genre, learn. But I wonder if any of you have shifted genres like this? Any advice for me? Did you find it was hit-or-miss, that you had to re-start your first project(s) until you found your way? How did you battle your insecurities?