Within the last 24 hours I finished my latest novel.
No, you didn’t somehow miss all of the updates I posted or tweeted about it. I wrote this one without telling anyone, in my public or private life about it. And that’s just one of the unique qualities about the process of writing this one.
It all started early this summer. I bought a notebook one day to record longer ideas, passages, basic outlines and other such writing-related ideas and reminders that are otherwise too big to write down on the go in the small notebook I take in my pocket most places. I’ve experimented with this kind of larger, more in depth notebook before, but not on a consistent basis.
Just a day or two after I bought this larger notebook, I was resting in my room, and started to drift off to sleep. In the midst of my hypnagogia a phrase of description came to me. Memorable enough to wake me up for the moment, I rolled over and repeated the phrase several times out loud to myself. I first made a mental note to write the phrase down when I woke up. But somehow I was able to convince myself that I was playing craps with the idea. If I liked the phrase enough to write it down at all, there was no reason to risk forgetting about it by waiting until later to do it.
That’s what I bought the notebook for anyway. So I got up, grabbed said notebook and a pen.
I wanted to put the phrase into some kind of context. I decided that if I dragged myself out of bed to do this, I might as well give my future self something more than a handful of words. So I constructed a sentence around the fragment.
Then the sentence became a paragraph, and then two paragraphs before I stopped scribbling.
Before I even closed the notebook, I knew a concept for a story had arisen, and that I was going to continue the idea.
But as what? I didn’t know yet. But so inspired, (as well as surprised) was I to have a concept emerge already from these initial bits, I viewed them with a certain reverence. Because of this, I decided to take an uncommon approach for me.
I was going to pants it. (For those not familiar with that writing term, it means to proceed to write something as it comes to you, cold, with no outline.)
If that wasn’t unusual enough for me, I also decided not to determine the length ahead of time for this new work. I was determined to just write it until it felt like a conclusion had been reached. Would it be a short story, a “long short story,” a whole new novel? I didn’t know. But the story presented itself, and I followed.
So I began the process from an usual place for me.
And I wrote in a somewhat different fashion and pace as well, as compared to many of my other works. Whenever the question of “what next?” was answered in my mind through the simple organic writing of what came to me, I decided to make that thing happen as soon as I could, within the narrative. I didn’t rush my writing by any means, but I was determined that if a character needed to buy bread for part of the plot to move forward, I was going to get them to the store in less time than is usual for me. (I tend to enjoy setting things up, and adding layers.) This, for lack of a better term, “hurry up” approach accomplished two things for me:
- I always had a goal post to look at when I felt I might be getting off track. “Get to that store,” I’d tell myself.
- It made it easier for me to trust the process to bring me what came next. By discovering on the fly (almost) what was next, and trusting that revelation by writing it into the story, other doors would open as needed. Not much pondering about it, just getting on with it.
Yet there were still things about the process that differed from my norm. After about a week, I needed a change of pace one day, so i took my ancient laptop to the library and started working on the story there. I have rarely before that worked on my writing at the library. But it felt right, and I did it again the next day, and the next, until eventually, I was writing this story only at the library. (Which remained the case until this week, when car trouble kept me from getting to the library, and I wrote the last two chapter or so at home.)
It worked so well, I got somewhat “superstitious.” I still didn’t know how long the story would be, but I didn’t want any human outside force to topple what might be a house of cards, so I told nobody about it. Not family, not my readers, not even my writer friends. Nobody. That afforded me a certain freedom from, “how’s the latest novel going?” questions that can sometimes wear thin.
Eventually, of course, a pattern for the story would emerge. I became aware of certain places that it probably “should” go. I remained open to changing my mind as I did more work, (and I did change it once or twice) but I can’t help seeing horizon of what i am doing eventually. Yet I still didn’t outline. I left myself a few reminders of where I was planning to go at the end of each writing session, so I knew somewhere to pick it up from, and the ending was, I felt, already destined. But I kept to my agreement with myself to “pants” it for the most part.
At about 25,000 words I knew I was looking at at least a novella, but I could see it expanding into novel territory depending on how things unfolded. (I still didn’t define the length ahead of time though.) The first draft is about 55,000, so that could place it on the low, short end of novel, or the long end of novella. It’s Nanowrimo length, though, and they call it a novel at that length, so I guess I could as well. A lot will depend on the first set of revisions, which I don’t plan to begin until after the holidays.
As for genre, I’m so bad at that. One of my weaknesses as an author, I suppose. But the writing itself is more literary than I have been before at this length. I’ve written shorty literary pieces, but this is the first potential literary novel I’ve done. (Though it may also be magical realism, or some light variety of fantasy, I just don’t know yet.) I liked playing with language and description to a greater than normal degree though.
And-that’s all I’m going to tell you for now. Sorry, that may be unfair, but in keeping with my policy of keeping this project distant from others, I’ll likely reveal very little about it until later drafts, when it’s on more solid footing. Besides, there is at least one major repair in the middle I know I will have to make based on the ending I eventually came to. Thing took a slight turn I didn’t plan on up front. But that’s what first drafts are for, and that is what leaving them in a drawer for a few months is for, which I intend to do.
Assuming this will end up novel length, even on the shorter end, it will mark forth complete novel I have written, lifetime. (Including my very first novel-length piece which I put in a drawer many years ago that I doubt will ever surface.) Then Flowers of Dionysus of course. An as yet unnamed mystery novel that I completed for Nanowrimo last year, (which I plan to publish) and this recently completed manuscript, which I have been calling Project Beta. The title has nothing to do with the plot; it’s just a working title.
So there you have it. An unplanned, unnamed novel that I pantsed my way through in the library on my laptop all summer and into fall, based on a phrase that came to me in a near-sleep state.
- Posted in: Writing