Death is not our greatest pain

‘On Death’
by John Keats

Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain’s to die.

How strange it is that man on earth should roam,
And lead a life of woe, but not forsake
His rugged path; nor dare he view alone
His future doom which is but to awake.

John Keats is and always has been one of my favourite poets. The above, titled On Death, is one of my favourites. To me, it speaks of regret and opportunities lost, but mostly of the pain and sorrow one feels just before death when they realize they have neglected to live.

I look back on my life (not that it has been all that long, really) and I can honestly say I have no regrets. I have made mistakes, some of them massive and enduring, but I believe I have learned from each of them and in the end have come away stronger and with a deeper understanding of myself.

No, this is not prologue to an announcement of my impending demise; it is my proclamation to deny regret – humanity’s greatest pain – to ever take hold of me. As I have said, ad nauseum, my dream is to one day publish a novel. I think I have been talking about this dream since I was twelve years old. Well, nearly three of that child’s lifetimes have passed without resolution. As they say, talk is cheap and I promised I would start working toward that goal once the 3-Day Novel contest was over.

Now that I have had time to recover from the gruelling affair that was the 3-Day Novel Contest, the work toward my ultimate lifelong goal will begin. I am debating whether or not to give myself a deadline. The complication of such a terminal act, however, is disappointment if I do not finish at the intended time and the resulting deathblow to my momentum. Alternately, if I do not, my inclination to procrastinate will drag the project out indefinitely. I will ponder the alternatives and return with an answer at a later date.

In the meantime, I will begin working tonight (take that procrastination monster). My approach this time (I have started many times before and been thwarted by my own self-criticisms and a litany of other ethereal excuses) will be to attack the project more prepared. I never thought it would be easy to write a book, but somehow I believed I could ride the wave of my imagination from beginning to end. However, each time that wave would crash near the 100,000-word mark. I believe that is where will and imagination are separated from old-fashioned hard work. I recently read a good article on Masionneuve regarding the 85,000 word phenomenon. The author, Mark Sampson, calls the number arbitrary, but I think there might be something more concrete to it. (thanks to my 3-Day-Novel friend over at I Vancouverite who pointed this piece out).

As I have said before, I don’t really do outlines and for 50,000 words or less that is probably ok, but my goal is nearly quadruple that. However, I am not completely sold on the outline either. I don’t want to lose the spontaneity. I derive deep satisfaction when I live the story as much as I create it. With that in mind, I will breathe life into all the elements of my story without ever actually outlining the novel (aside from general plot). For the next month, I will sketch my main characters and the world they live in with as much detail and clarity as I can muster. When finished, I hope to know them better than my closest friends or even my family. If all goes to plan, at the end of that process I will have a puzzle laid out before me and once I assemble the pieces my novel will be born.

I think with those elements in hand I will break the 100k barrier and be on my way to actually finishing a complete work. Over the next month I will post brief sketches of my characters and the world I will create for them. I hope you will follow along and I welcome any advice or moral support.

Wish me luck.

P.S. Criticism is also welcome, I guess.

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