He tried working on something new. Several other writers had encouraged him to. "If your novel isn't cooperating, just move on," we told him. "Find another project that makes you want to write every day. Obviously this one isn't working for you right now, but you can always come back to it."
He tried to be tempted. He tried digging into another project, something with less baggage, less stress attached to it. It was then that the sweating started. His eyes shifted around the room to see if anyone noticed his infidelity. The words of his first novel came to him, whispering guilt, pain, and shame. How could he do this? How could he dump the novel he'd devoted his life to and start something else?
I admit that I still have similar misgivings. Instead of a lover (or spouse), though, the novel feels like a child. The first child is always the hardest, too. I don't want it to cry, or fall and hurt its knees, or feel lonely for even a second. I've revised my first novel about 25 times now, and it's still not quite ready (though it's getting awfully close!). But the first time I started working on something else--when I'd only revised the novel about 15 times--it felt like I was turning my back on my only child. Would she forgive me? Would she ever speak to me again?
What if she didn't? What if she was my only chance to express myself fully, and my creativity dried up completely? Karma. Wouldn't I deserve it, for being such a bad parent?
But part of my problem was that I had other children waiting on me. They were pulling on my apron before they were ever born, and I have still more gnawing at me now, wondering why I haven't started on them.
The truth is, my second child, though still only in revision #5 or so, helped me make my first child better. And my third helped me figure out POV in a way the other two hadn't. Each little child I created helped me return to the other ones with more patience, more depth, more perspective. They are better, more capable, more meaningful, and more interesting children because of their brothers and sisters.
I still feel wracked with guilt. Each hour I spend on one child is an hour away from the others (including the two children I bodily gave birth to). I have to drown out the voices, the little hands pulling at my skirt while I work, whining at me because I am not devoting that hour to them. And so I switch. I work on one until I am stuck, until I don't know what to do. Then I set it aside, putting it in front of cartoons while I spend some one-on-one time with another child.
I hope, when they are all grown and gone, they will not still resent the time I left them in a room alone and played with a sibling. I hope they all grow to be capable, meaningful well-adjusted novels (and plays).