I’ve been attempting to write a novel for the past year or so.
I probably should be done by now but I have found myself writing in streaks and thus making slower progress than I would like.
I’ll have a few weeks where the ideas just come to me unbidden. I’ll think “Oh, Sebastian should tie his shoes” or “Daniel is going to drink an entire bottle of vodka” and I’m off.
Then at other times nothing comes at all. I’ll reread scenes I’ve already written trying to figure out how they will fit together and what I need to write to bridge the gaps, but struggle to put anything on paper. So I take a break. I don’t stop thinking about it, I just stop writing.
(I’m not whining about it. I could sit down and make myself power through, but I’m doing it for fun and obviously don’t have the motivation to force it. It is what it is and I assume if I get to the point where I have to finish the damn thing or go crazy, I’ll do so.)
My latest source of inspiration came a couple of weeks ago at Booktopia.
I’ve written about the wonders of this reader’s retreat ad nauseam for this blog, so I won’t repeat it all here. Click on this link if you want to learn about Booktopia.
The previous two years Booktopia has encouraged me as a reader. I’ve come away with a mile long list of books to read in the future and a new appreciation for books I’ve already read. Not to mention a giant stack of purchased books.
And I caught the whole writing bug during a Booktopia talk by author Matthew Dicks, but Booktopia had never provided me specific guidance on the writing process. I’m sure the writers have talked about their methods, I just wasn’t listening for it.
This year was different.
The weekend began with writing workshops led by Matthew Dick, who is a champion of the idea that all readers should be writers.
The workshops were intimate, less than 15 people, and it was wonderful to share time with other readers who write and gain advice from someone who has been through the novel writing process repeatedly and with success.
Then Elizabeth Kelly, author of Apologize, Apologize and Last Summer of the Camperdowns, said that she started writing instead of watching Jerry Springer.
She said that she happily could have just watched TV, but decided to write instead and got a novel out of it.
And they compared a novel’s first draft to sculpture, an image that appeals to me. “It’s like creating a statue and the first draft is the clay. Just get it all out there then you can start carving.”
Finally, Jon Clinch (Finn, Kings of the Earth and The Thief of Auschwitz) revealed that he completed his first book by writing a page a day.
When I got back home, I sorted through all these tidbits in my mind. Everyone’s process is different but surely there was something to learn from each of these authors, something that would help me move through those slumps when I committed nothing to paper.
The obvious answer is to write regularly whether or not the result is good. So I’m taking the Jon Clinch approach and writing at least a page every day. Even if I’m feeling uninspired.
And like Amy Brill, I’m not going to worry about the quality of this writing at first. I’m going to just put it on paper. Certainly I’m not going to purposely try to write badly, but I’m not going to edit as I write. I’m going to create enough clay that I have something to sculpt.
And when I’m stuck for ideas, I’m going to try the exercise Matthew Dicks walked us through at the writing workshop.
He had a fancy name for it which I’m failing to remember, but it boiled down to simply spending five minutes creating a stream of consciousness list. Just letting your mind wander and fingers type.
You can start with any image or thought and I think it would be interesting to use a particular scene as a jumping off point and just free write ideas to see where they go. Maybe I’ll come up with some interesting ways to bridge my novel’s gaps that way.
So I’m feeling good about this novel thing right now. I’ve been writing regularly and the word count is adding up.
Score yet another point for Booktopia!