The Brussels Novel Writing Experiment

I felt so confident (and dare I say innovative) when I willy-nilly decided, back in January, to randomly choose a European country to travel to–and hide out in–to write a novel during a week in May.

It’s May. I leave for Brussels in two days. The bravado and confidence has left me. As the flight date approaches, I’m getting excited to see the city I chose. I’m also realizing how much I’m going to miss a certain someone when I’m gone. I’m also worried I’m not going to be able to write a novel while I’m gone.

Every year, as the July Muskoka Novel Marathon approaches, I get super nervous that I’m going to come up with nothing during the annual 72hr novel writing marathon in Huntsville. I convince myself ahead of time that I’m going to get there and stare at a blank computer screen and write nothing. In 2016, that’s exactly what I did–more or less–for the first 24 hours. When I was mumbling into a cup of coffee about my despair over not having anything to write about, a writer friend told me to write my story–“but tweak the shit out of it so it doesn’t look quite like yours”. He immediately released an idea in me and that idea flowered into the novel that went on to win BEST ADULT NOVEL at the marathon.

So a part of me knows that the lack of confidence and the fear and the anxiety is part of the shtick. It’s part of who I am. I tell myself over and over and over again that I’m not worthy, that I can’t handle it, that I can’t do it, that I’m incapable, that I’m hopeless, that I’m going to fail, that I CAN’T. But there’s no corresponding rational part of me that points out that this is just part of the shtick. I’m in the head-space, at the moment, that is convinced I will fail at the writing part of this journey. I can’t do it. I will fail.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still manic-ally looking forward to seeing a new European city. I love travel. I would do it every day if it were a possibility. And to be honest, BRUSSELS wasn’t as randomly chosen as I would like to believe it was. To say I closed my eyes and pointed at a map of Europe and said, “This is where I will go to write a novel” is more romance than reality. I have been smitten by the eventuality of Brussels for some time. And, more pointedly, BRUGES…which I will also be exploring. I can’t wait to see these two places. I’m sure the travel part of this trip will be a smashing success. It’s the writing part I fear. It’s the being-away-from-someone-whose-constant-presence-makes-me-happy part I fear.

I want to do this. The suitcase is relatively packed. The laptop is ready for the journey. The day trips are booked for mid-week—Brussels walking tour on Tuesday and Bruges walking tour on Wednesday (because walking is the only true way to SEE a place–I learned that on the Camino)—I’m imagining sitting in front of the screen for the rest of the trip, tapping away at my keyboard. I’m sending myself anticipatory good vibes. I’m hoping this novel writing experiment is a success. For more than one reason.


My published novels – Summer on Fire, Burn Baby Burn Baby, Half Dead & Fully Broken, The Reasons, Sebastian’s Poet.

I’m sitting here with TWO consecutive novels that didn’t make it to publication. One–a Gay YA issue novel, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, about the forming of a gay/straight alliance in a high school–was loved by my agent and read by almost every single major and mid-range publisher in North America. They all rejected it—mostly with glowing compliments regarding the writing, etc…but with the death knell causing reason of it being BEHIND THE TREND. The second novel–a road trip returning home after estrangement because of a death in the family story called I WILL TELL THE NIGHT–was rejected out of the gate, by my agent. As I felt it contained some of my best writing, the rejection threw me for more than a loop. It is making me reevaluate everything at a time when I had previously planned to sit down in a foreign country and write a new novel. I’m on shaky ground here. Not to mention how devastating it was to have PRIDE unanimously rejected by so many (ALL) major publishers.

I suppose I should be honored that they all requested fulls of PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, and that they all apparently read said fulls. I suppose I should be honored by the rejections that are so complimentary I could frame them and hang them on the wall for inspiration. But I’m not. A writer mostly only hears the NO. Every rejection is a hit. Especially when you have already rejected yourself. When it comes from the publisher/agent, it’s kind of a reassurance of your lack of belief in your ability as a writer. I don’t know if it’s just me, or if it’s a rampant thing in creatives, but I don’t have faith. Well, I do…I have faith in my inability. And yet I keep on keeping on.

So here I am. I’m a soon to be traveler again. I’m looking forward to seeing a new city I dreamed of seeing. I’m feeling really sad about being away from the one I love for an entire week and looking forward to getting back home to be with them. I’m also just a boy, sitting in front of a laptop, asking it to love him. This experiment HAS to work. I neglected to sign up for the MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON this year. I wanted to take away the safety net of having a back-up novel writing plan in place for the year 2017. I LIKE writing my novels in (relatively) one sitting. So I narrowed this year’s novel writing journey to ONE PLACE, ONE WEEK, ONE CHANCE. That chance is BRUSSELS.

I’m going to miss you like crazy, Michael. Even though I already know we will be in almost constant communication and I’ll be having fun exploring new places and you’ll be having fun in the wonderful world of Disney, I’m going to miss our everyday everydayness for the coming week.

With all the anxiety of a full grown holler monkey about to jump up and down on a sheet of movie studio glass in the hopes of it not shattering into a million tiny pieces (this is the thing that seems like it would be the most demonstrative example of high-anxiety to me–so please go with it and don’t argue with a crazy person), I am ready to begin my experiment. Please, FRANCIS DE SALES, wherever your heart and mind and soul and spirit may be, please watch over me, a mad and failed writer in a world filled with mad and failed writers, while I’m gone to this place on earth to hole-up in a sub-standard hotel to write the Great North-American Novel ironically nowhere near North-American soil. Please, dear patron saint of writers and journalists, take pity on my misguided experiment. Allow me to, at the very least, find a way to write one word after another word after another word while I’m gone. I need this. I am a fallen scribe who needs something to believe in. Please give me the strength to SIT & WRITE. And, please, GIVE ME SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT. Tell me a story, all about a glory…how to begin it? There’s nothing in it…

By Kevin Craig

Author, Poet, Playwright. Author of The Camino Club, Billions of Beautiful Hearts, and Book of Dreams, all from Duet Books, the LGBTQ Young Adult imprint of Chicago Review Press. Other books: Pride Must Be A Place, Half Dead & Fully Broken, Burn Baby Burn Baby, The Reasons, Sebastian's Poet, and Summer on Fire.

1 comment

  1. You are not alone. I only hear the NO. And when the story you’ve written really resonates with you, that no is even louder.
    If it is of any consolation, ID Press is very happy to have you as part of their anthologies.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: