Three is a magical number in many cultures and many situations. The trinity, third time is the charm, bad things (and good things) come in threes. For me, three is that cursed place where my brain freezes, my fingers frost to the keyboard, and ice nests in the pit of my stomach.
Chapter 3 is when I realize I’m writing a novel. You’d think it would have been obvious before that. After all, I do a lot of detailed character and plot work before I sit down to write. The file I’m working on is called “Draft,” and it’s saved in the “Novels” folder on my hard drive. But for some reason, it doesn’t really hit me until Chapter 3: someone might actually read this someday.
Suddenly, I’m looking at this naked, newborn story with narrowed, critical eyes. Why would anyone want to read this crap? It’s just a first draft, protests the feeble writer within. But it’s pretty sad for that, even, the critic accuses. I summon the spirit of Natalie Goldberg to help me: “You are free to write the worst junk in the world.” Good thing, says the critic.
I’ve never finished a novel – and I’ve started several – because I’ve always listened to the critic. Sometimes I can get past Chapter 3, but not by much. I’ve never arrived at the point where I could confidently say “I’m half done with this draft, and if I could do that, then I can do this.”
I think this novel will be different. For one thing, this set of characters is just screaming to get out. All the characters of all the novels I’ve tried to write before come back when I’m dreaming a new story. They’re ghosts with unquiet graves, hidden away on a backup disk or in the bottom of a filing cabinet. They’re going to haunt me until I write them out.
But more importantly, I’ve grown up a bit since I last tried to write a novel. I now realize that I’m not writing because I want to be rich and famous. I’m not writing for love or to impress people. I’m writing because I love it. I’m happiest when I’m wrestling with a plot problem or imagining the background of a character. So, I’ll get past Chapter 3 this time. I’ll finish this novel, because I’m having a great time with it. It may never be published; it may end its days in a drawer somewhere. But at least I’ll know: If I did it once, I can do it again.