I was working this weekend on what I consider to be the hardest part of starting a novel. It’s not the outlining or the descriptive note cards I have laying about the bedroom like so much detritus. It’s not the initial formatting of the manuscript (which I’ve since learned is just foolish at the start). It’s not even transcribing my scribbled notes from my old online journals.
The hardest part of starting this latest novel was simply putting the words down in a sensible order and having them look the way I wanted. For some reason (and I suppose this is true for all my writing), I had to be in the mindset of the characters fully in order to write the scene from his point of view.
I think this is true of all writing: on those days when writing is smooth and seems to flow like lava down a mountainside, we are acting like that character, fully immersed in the role. Conversely, when our writing is chunky and it seems we’re just spinning our wheels on the tarmac of a chapter, we’re not in tune with our characters; we’re distracted by other voices that may be internal or external.
Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors was written by a voice in my head, one that told me a story I eventually transcribed. For nearly six years, however, I couldn’t hear her; there were too many distractions and–at least I think–Maggie didn’t want to talk to me anymore. I was actually crestfallen in the way you might be if your best friend (that’s “BFF”) ignored you.
But Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors was written in the 1st person, something I’m not keen on doing. Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, however, was written in the 3rd person, and for each section of the story, it took time for me to be fully immersed in the character’s life. On those days when I was not Benjamin, but Fulano or Nathan or Dan or Thomas or Veronica or Carolyn or the Artist, the words flowed onto the paper from my fingers in an effortless dance. But on those days there were distractions and I couldn’t get into the spirit of things, I stumbled. Mind you, I still wrote, but only about a third of the volume of the other, more productive days.
But it was all okay. I didn’t have to stick to a rigid 2,000-word-a-day schedule. I could break it up as the spirits moved me. That was true for Castles, for Sketches, and for this latest novel. To force words–to believe you must expectorate 10,000 words or more a week–is to take the fun out of writing. If we’re on deadlines, that enables poor quality writing.
What I’m saying is this: it’s okay for us to wait if it means, in the end, the writing is pure. What is pure? Pure is being the character the writing calls for, not forcing the character to be you.
I think this is more proof that writers are freakin’ insane.
It’s wonderful, isn’t it?
Then again, this may be why I’ll never amount to anything: I take too much time; I can’t be James Patterson or Clive Cussler; I can’t write a novel in a month without screwing it all up so I don’t recognize anything pure in the words.
It’s depressing, isn’t it?
Of course, this all about me. What about you?