One of the reasons I love writing novels (as opposed to writing short stories, which I merely like) is that there's so much room to spread out. You can walk into a novel, take off your hat and gloves and coat and leave them lying around on the furniture. You can spill food on the floor and leave it there. You can just make yourself a big mess and live in it for a couple of years.
I'm a tidy person, by nature: I like to keep my desk clean and the floor free of obstructions. I like to plan out tasks and execute them on schedule. But (as I've posted here before), the older I get, the less I like to plan out a novel. Short stories lend themselves better to my fastidious side; I find that they need to be almost perfect right off the bat, or I can't make them work. They have to be some kind of miraculous magic trick, or feat of physical dexterity, like sinking a three-pointer or making a perfect omelette.
A novel, though: you can stumble upon something and just go at it like a madman for a couple of days. In the novel I'm trying to write (I can't call it "my book" until I hit 75 pages or so; anything less, and it's just hubris), I recently found myself describing a character's job at great length--a good page and a half's worth. It doesn't really have anything to do with anything, and who knows if it will stick. But wow, what a blast. It's the most fun I've had writing in months. This is what it's all about--getting up in the morning and having no idea what you're going to be doing, then ending up describing the expression on a man's face as he peers out of a passing pickup truck, or the way an overweight hotel manager pushes himself up out of a swivelchair, or the way a CEO with a terminally ill child gossips about her employees.
The problem of course is confidence: confidence that any of it is worth it. If you have some distant goal in mind, maybe you can convince yourself that everything is relevant, even when you know it isn't. But without the goal, the excursions into the mess of the unknown just feel like so much pointless nonsense.
When it's on, though, it feels great. Getting lost, wandering around, finding your way back. Here's hoping it's on more often than not, for you, in 2009.