August 25, 2021

On Writing a Novel

As the fundamental laws of physics change when an object goes from the quantum scale to a normal Newtonian size, so a novel is not governed, necessarily, by the same principles as most forms of writing.

It took me over a year and a half to write my debut novel An Invincible Summer, so I grew familiar with the text. So much so that often it was difficult to go through the sentences objectively and decide what was missing or what ought to be taken away. I was lucky to have people in my circles who were willing to provide their fresh perspectives and help me round things out, though. Specifically, because of the duration over which I wrote this text, I worried about cohesion and awkwardness since I was interrupted from writing so many times. Since then, I have tried to update my methods; the process of writing a novel is not the same as writing an email or an essay. As the fundamental laws of physics change when an object goes from the quantum scale to a normal Newtonian size, so a novel is not governed, necessarily, by the same principles as most forms of writing. A novel is a sea of words—musings, references, dialogues, and subplots—and often when rereading my own draft, I hardly recognized what I had written. It’s no simple task to juggle all of the information in the book in my head at the same time as I would for an essay, email, or short story. That’s where those new perspectives are helpful.

This endeavor started as an assignment for my Spanish class during junior year. We were to write a chronicle set in Chicago about some main character, integrating a number of vocabulary words and literary devices. When I decided I liked what I had written. I expanded the scenes into a full story. When I was writing the story, I did not hold back; otherwise, I would not have written anything. Some people believe that their “juvenilia” should never see the light of day, but I think putting something out there is an important part of the learning process. Fiction has immense power because it takes advantage of a unique evolutionary trait that seemingly only humans have to such a profound extent: the ability to comprehend and share myths. When we read stories (of things that do not even exist) and take them to heart, we are united to complete great collaborative feats by the forces of ideologies, and not just what our DNA tells us to do.

In summary, the story is a cautionary tale that simultaneously attempts to stay true to the epigraph: “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” My understanding is that this line originates in a letter called “Return to Tipasa” if you’d like to learn more. Heavily influenced by Søren Kierkegaard, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche, the author of the quotation, Albert Camus, during a time of frequent war, arguably founded absurdism, which holds that an individual has to define his or her own purpose in life or otherwise there won’t be one. Many times he is also cited as popularizing the myth of Sisyphus with his namesake, nihilism-infused 1942 philosophical essay. Of course, when we think about that king in Greek mythology who is condemned to roll a boulder up a hill every day before watching it tumble down to the bottom to begin again, the futility seems cruel. Yet, many stages of life are similar, and one must develop the skill of being as happy as possible under unideal conditions to the best of one’s given ability. That’s one of my interpretations, but what’s great is that different people can come from other backgrounds or life experiences and derive something completely different yet equally valid and enriching.

Most people I know see me as a numbers person in one way or another. The truth, however, is that even numbers tell a story. I have always believed that there is a story to be told in everything, and that if you cannot articulate the story that is inside you, it is almost as if it does not exist. I hope to mix the humanities aspect of my interests with the numerical to discover new and exciting ways of interpreting the world. An Invincible Summer really is just the first step in that longer evolution—but for the evolution to take place, I have to take the first step. I have to put myself out there, with the expectation of doing it over and over before daylight. I may have felt alone in this evolution at times, but in reality this is not strictly the case. The designer of the book cover, for example, was instrumental in getting me to see this project through to its publication in February. Allow me to explain. From my experience, when you share a piece of visual art (namely a book cover) with a friend, there are two common responses: (1) “Wow!” and (2) “Well, that’s interesting…” Let’s be honest: people do judge a book by its cover. Thankfully, the designer of the book cover, Bailey McGinn, delivered the first response with flying colors and reinvigorated me. On the other hand, the publishing industry is not what I had hoped it would be (don’t get me started on ISBNs), but I made adaptations and got the book out there eventually. With time, I’ll become savvier about publishing and maybe discover more efficient ways to get it done.

An Invincible Summer isn’t perfect, but it is the best effort I could put forward with the time, resources, and skill that I had. My upcoming works, too, should be shared as part of the learning process in due time. Sometimes the public has good lessons. But the learning process can also make one vulnerable, and that brings me more unease than I’d like to admit. For one, I’m concerned people will see through this text. Some of my friends already have. It’s too intellectual, too hypothetical. Perhaps it’s naïve or inaccurate, and in those moments when a reader recognizes so, I fear that the embarrassment will be too intense to bear, or that anyone in my life who decides to closely read any part of the novel will develop a mental image of my “adorable” cluelessness in certain contexts relative to other ones. I tried to be convincing in crafting the story and all its details, but I did not always do enough research. Worse, I did not do enough living. Someone may believe that my debut novel is not sufficiently substantiated in the facts of life and may sense that the author is quite literally less than 20 years old. But hey, at the end of the day, it’s worth it. You’ve got to start somewhere. As a matter of fact, even if merely one person reads it and walks away with a more competent outlook on the complex nature of human interpersonal relationships, then I’ve done my job.