Thursday, November 8, 2007

Guest in Progress: Ryan Krausmann

I met Ryan Krausmann in the summer of 2003, when he was in my “Beginning Your Novel” workshop at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. At the time, he shared with the class a very promising opening chapter for a novel about a guy trying to decide whether or not to get married; among other things, I particularly admired Ryan’s spare but evocative prose. After the class, from time to time, I’d get an email from him or hear some scrap of news of him from some other members of the workshop. And then at the beginning of this summer, he wrote that he was quitting his job to work full-time on a new novel.

How exciting, I wrote back, please keep me posted. I was envious and admiring and inspired—and totally curious as to how it would all turn out for him. I was reminded of a wonderful quotation that I think of often—even as I don’t live it nearly enough—that I remember from Julia Cameron’s The Artist's Way: “Make the leap, and the net will appear.” Bold moves like Ryan’s are always exciting to hear about, and often rewarded.

A few weeks ago, I got the update: he had finished a draft of his novel!

Congratulations, I wrote back, now I really want to hear the details. (Okay—I’m paraphrasing, since my emails usually contain too many exclamation points to be quoted.)

And he was kind enough to write up the following for the blog. If you were thinking of a bold move of your own, perhaps you’ll be inspired by Ryan’s experience:

Many people quit their job to do something crazy. Some buy a plane ticket and backpack through Europe. Some hitchhike the U.S. from one coast to another. I decided I’d write the novel that I had in my head for two years. I’d been able to get some chapters done on nights and weekends but what I really wanted was to write every single morning without the interruption of a job. Three summer months – June, July, and August – would be set aside solely for the novel. I wasn’t going to do a job search. I wasn’t going to worry about money. I was going to put as many words on paper as I could.

The first surprise was every friend told of my plan was supportive and excited. They checked-in all summer through emails and phone calls to see how the writing was going. They were proud of me.

My characters – once packed into a short story – now had space for long conversations about high school life over their lunch breaks. They talked about their fears and dreams, frustrations and joys. These dialogues didn’t advance the plot and won’t make it to the next draft but my characters discovered their voices and I discovered that they had parents, brothers, grandparents, mentors, and best friends. A novel is long enough to contain all these people.

My father pretended to understand the unemployment, but he showed patience. This was not something he could offer advice on, disapprove of, or endorse. He takes his self-esteem from success at business: from grueling hard work and making daily sales. He doesn’t see how someone can stop going to the office or the warehouse and not get depressed.

Writers – you realize after a few weeks – need not shave. My face was left stubbly most days. Those Gap khakis I wore every day to work remained on the closet hangar. Instead I wore gym shorts and T-shirts every day and often the same clothes on consecutive days. I was conserving trips to the basement laundry. My brother and his girlfriend visited me for a week and I think they noticed I didn’t change my cargo shorts the whole time.

It’s shocking the sheer amount of words it takes to fill-up a novel: Descriptions, inner thoughts, movements, personal histories, and conversations. Many mornings I’d wished I could draw pictures rather then pounding out pronouns and adjectives just for the variation.

My mother reminded me that all who wander are not lost. Many successful people take a break from their working careers. They re-fresh their batteries and re-sharpen their saws.

I drank two or three Pepsis a day. Novel-writing I originally thought would not be a job dependent on caffeine and I could give up coffee and soda. This was wrong. After two months I took my girlfriend’s recommendation and switched to three cans of Diet Pepsi a day.

The ghost of a character’s grandfather appeared in the library even though that wasn’t in the novel’s outline. This book was to be realistic like the classics East of Eden and Middlemarch, which I never finished. The ghost stayed, however, above all because I was interested to see how things turned out. He was a very nice old man, this ghost. He also took up half a chapter which helps to fill up a novel.

I realized that writers have no meetings, no conferences and no lunch dates with co-workers. I got lonely. I emailed and called everyone in Washington, DC who’d go out to lunch with me. For these lunches, I showered, shaved, and put on clean clothes.

I turned the novel writing process into a marathon race to hit three hundred pages although I never figured out why people want novels to be three hundred pages.

I re-read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and was secretly pleased that this time while reading it I was actually writing every morning and took the book’s advice and used it.

The money in my bank account slowly depleted and I wondered if leaving that cubicle job was the right choice.

On the afternoon I wrote the scene where Nicole dumped David, I was sad for the rest of the day and night. These teenagers spent three months with me and became a sort of family. I had empathy for them.

When buying toothpaste at CVS the lady at the counter was not impressed with me no matter how great I wrote that morning.

When I finished the book I know I had only finished a first draft. It had taken until October and five months rather than the allotted three. On the day that I finished I felt frustrated, angry, and wasteful of my money and energy. But in two days or maybe three or four I felt peace and contentment and knew I would collect my energy for the writing of draft two.

Most importantly after having spent the summer as a novelist I emerged as a looser and more open writer. The next draft needs better dialogue, a tighter plot, more detail in the secondary characters, a better ending, and cleaner prose – but that is all for 2008 and even beyond. As of now, I am less afraid of the white page and more open to let the characters evolve as they want to evolve. My fingers are even literally looser on the keyboard as the words come to me. I have grown to be more open and loose and in sympathy with my characters and hopefully with the world. ~~Ryan Krausmann

About: Ryan Krausmann has lived in Florida, Washington, DC, and now resides in Philadelphia, PA.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.