Stephen King calls it telepathy, this ability to conjure unseen worlds into words, and by extension, pictures. It certainly is an odd vocation, to be a writer, and all of us who write by compulsion have our own approaches. Some are regimented, they can sit down and say “I’m going to write 3,000 words” and they do. Others plan every step up to the writing, taking copious notes and making outlines, and then sit down to do the work. Still others just wait, listening in the dark corners, for fancy to strike.
My process is odd, I admit. I’m highly undisciplined, and–though this time ’round I’ve broken a little with tradition–I typically don’t organize, and often have no idea where in the Universe the story is going in a given chapter, until I’m there. Most of my ideas appear to me as I’m falling asleep, a combination of events that’s meant I often have a difficult time getting to sleep. I write “in the dark” I suppose, waiting for glimpses of light in between cracks, and then excavating what I see.
The Aldersgate started when my friend Karen said to me, “I’m surprised you’ve never written a Western.” In the space of about three minutes, half of the characters in the novel appeared to me with astonishing clarity. I scribbled down some of the first chapter (which is now completely rewritten) and set the scene, then let it be for quite some time. You see, I was editing Another Book which, at this point, is sitting in cold storage for a while. Then it became apparent to me that it was time to work more on The Aldersgate, and in the space of about half a year, I wrote the entire first draft.
And by draft, really I mean outline. I just can’t plan ahead. It’s not in my nature. And I’m crud at actually editing my own work. I’m such a fast typer that I usually find it much better to simply rewrite the chapters as opposed to editing the bits and pieces. Whether or not this saves time, I don’t know. I just know that the second draft (the one I’m reading from which as also been edited by my brilliant godfather) is much, much stronger than the first.
But there are times where telling the story becomes such a Huge Thing that I get rather tongue-tied. Or, I suppose, finger-tied. I’m tossed into brain numbness. It’s not writer’s block, because I know where the story is going (at least now I do). I even outlined all my chapters to the end (yes, I’m proud of myself). It’s just at times it feels like there’s so much to say and so much to do and so many words to write–and write well–that I just can’t get it right. The last month or so has been replete with hurdles, writing huge sections and deleting them, restructuring, moving around, petitioning the Muse (Aelfric has one heck of a sense of humor, I tell you).
I just finished a chapter that was, I noticed, at the exact center of the novel. I didn’t realize this until I finished it, and it was hideously long. But it had to be long. It establishes one of the most important themes of the whole books, and one of the most important locations of the entire series. I couldn’t very well leave it to a few thousand words. Writing felt tedious though, and when I finally came up for air and looked at my word count it was shockingly high–in fact, the longest chapter I’ve written to date.
When it comes down to it I don’t know if I can suggest writing a multi point-of-view novel to anyone. Sure, they’re entertaining to read, and often a ton of fun to write. If you love getting inside of multiple characters, it’s truly thrilling. However, I get stuck. What if I don’t feel like Emry today, but I’ve got to finish this Emry chapter? How about what happens when Cora and Emry cross paths? Whose narrative do I go with? Whose do I drop? Where is everyone else? Where is my MAP?
My map is in my brain and it’s a perilous place in there. I lament the fact that my poor characters have to rattle around up there, in between the junk that I store, waiting to be put down in ink.
Process. We all do it differently. I suppose, when all is said and done, so long as it works for you, then it is successful. Very few writers approach their work the same way, and why should they? We don’t all want to write the same book (though some critics I read in grad school would argue that yes, we’re all writing the same book).
I think it’s a little late in the evening to be blogging, but I’ve been a bit too quiet. I’m working on putting together a .pdf version of Chapters One and Two and should be posting Chapter Two this weekend.
Well, I’m off to dream the next chapter. Cheers.