Read Dahlia Lithwick’s novel-in-progress, Saving Face.
It’s Friday. I have just posted Chapter 16. My day job, covering the Supreme Court, starts Monday. By every measure, I have failed to meet my deadline. Writing a novel in three weeks = beyond my abilities. But thanks to the extraordinary team of whittlers, elves, and shoemakers on Facebook, and the hundreds of e-mailers, I have every confidence that we will get this thing finished in the coming weeks. I am in it as long as you are in it, and in hindsight this would have been a wretched, lonely, and impossible task without you. One of my favorite Facebook posts of the last week came from a man wondering out loud “what a crowd sourced boy-lit novel would be like. The author would be throwing out questions like ’Hunter is just about to ambush the approaching Iraqi insurgents. What weapon do you guys think he should use first? I was think mk16. But is that too obvious?’ ”
That’s my next project …
Yesterday’s questions about women and balance have launched something of an e-firestorm, and I haven’t yet made it through all my mail or Facebook posts. I will. So hang in there. We’ll post a new chapter a few times a week until we’re done, and I may have to skip some days because of court. In fact, I may ask the Facebook elves and shoemakers to write those Supreme Court pieces as well. To all of you who have lifted this project along and those of you following along at home, thanks!
Remember last week when I said this experiment with fiction would be the hardest thing I could imagine? It’s much, much harder. I can’t believe every November thousands of people—most of them with full-time jobs—write an entire novel over four weeks. After only a week of nonstop writing, I am wiped out. The members of my tiny pit crew (copy editor from heaven, husband forced to watch Pretty Woman, friends reading chapters in freezer section at Whole Foods) are fried as well.
What have I learned from this foray into fiction? By a mile, the most striking thing for me about this project has been the tsunami force of reader participation. Yesterday I posted on the Facebook page that I needed a public defender, stat. One responded in less than two minutes. Another showed up a couple of minutes after that. Someone e-mailed in the Virginia-state-bar licensing requirements yesterday, because I am still wobbly on whether my protagonist should still be licensed or not. Another e-mail correspondent has taken on fact-checking and improving all of my family-law advice. A week in, I have this mad collective of hundreds of people who have gone way beyond naming pets and moved on to plotting scenes and critiquing characters. If you think the Internet is the place people go to thump away on one another, this project is eye-opening. I imagine if I introduced a plot point about, say, the necessity of the public option, it might get ugly, but so far it’s been collaborative magic. Last weekend, a friend described the back-and-forth between the chapters and Team Facebook as “Talmudic.” Talmudic chick-lit. Love that.
The other surprise? The sleeplessness! I’ve never had trouble sleeping in my life. Slept like a baby the night before Bush v. Gore. Both times. But writing fiction is completely different from journalism, and since beginning this project I don’t sleep. Part of it is the plotting, which takes over every waking moment. The other part is the characters, who chatter all day but really get excited at bedtime. I have no idea how real fiction writers shut down their projects at night. Journalism is intense but not like this.
I had to do a Supreme Court event Wednesday night, and I remembered how very much I loved my old job. Also, I remembered how much I like to shower.
What else? Even though this writing project is probably going to kill me, and I am ever more doubtful that I can finish in time, a week in, I am glad that I am doing it. For one thing, it’s the most fun I have ever had writing. Also, it’s probably the most fun I will ever have with hundreds of complete strangers. And as bizarre as the whole enterprise has been, I really love the idea of scaring your own professional face off every once in a while. Mostly, it’s taken a few days, but I am starting to sort of like these characters and I want to hear what they have to say for the next few weeks. Just maybe not at 2 a.m.