Life is full, and my head is full, and in trying to figure out what to say, I keep coming back to the notion that Thanksgiving dinner is to people’s stomachs as thoughts are to my brain. But not just once a year. All the time. I often fall silent not because I have nothing to say, but because there is too much and I don’t know where to begin.
This problem is exacerbated by periods of intense writing. I just finished drafting a new book during National Novel Writing Month. Unlike the past few novels, I didn’t plan this one out. Over the last several years I’ve been developing a system that works well for me. I use a composition notebook–those cheap black-and-white ones–for each book. I leave space for a table of contents. I number the pages. I sketch out my vision for the story, outline the plot, develop the characters, and then go chapter by chapter, creating a bullet-point list of all the important elements and events in that chapter. Then I write. Then I go back to the notebook and do a chapter-by-chapter revision list. I’m adding to this all the time; in the last one, I started making collages of characters. There’s something really satisfying about glue and magazines.
This month, however, I didn’t plan. Through the first week in November, I was finishing a massive rewrite in which I scrapped the last third of a book and wrote a completely new one. New settings, characters, monsters. Completely new plot. I had no idea what I was going to write for NaNoWriMo. I figured that out on November 6, and started writing on the 7th. And now I have a first draft.
This book is a HOT MESS. It’s ridiculous. I didn’t have time to think much about it–I just wrote. Probably most of it will get the axe. But I think there are a few gems there, a few seeds to weed around–okay, let’s be honest, clearcut around–to nurture and cultivate. I think I may have something here, but it’s going to take a lot of work.
The magical thing about not planning was that I started with only a sense of a beginning and ending, and a sort of feeling I wanted the book to have–a sort of Appalachian fairytale vibe. And because I didn’t have anything else, I was free to let the magic happen. A lot of the time I stared at the screen or a blank piece of paper. A lot of the time I wondered why on earth I was doing this. I figured I was doing it wrong. But that sense of outline-less-ness freed me up to experiment, to try new things with style and form. A few of the chapters have a first person plural narrator. Others are traditional third person. Some are first person singular. The style is a kind of Blue Ridge incarnation of magical realism mixed with the earthy darkness of Virginia folklore. I don’t know if it works, but I learned from it. What I learned, exactly, I still need to suss out, but I know I learned something. Something about magic and freedom and just doing, squashing my inner editor more firmly than I have ever done before.
And now it’s time for something new. A break, not from creating, but from the frantic Writing of All the Words. I ordered some bookbinding supplies today. There are new projects on the horizon. I’m looking forward to the joyous creativity of putting together care packages for friends who live far away. And I’m querying Silence, another YA fantasy. After twenty query rejections, I celebrated my first full request a couple of days ago. This full request will likely end in rejection, but it’s heartening to feel that I’m at least on the right track. It’s good to keep querying, to keep the momentum going.
This is a lot of blah blah blah about me and my stuff, and would be much nicer if we could discuss over tea and I could hear about what you’re up to as well. After finishing this novel marathon, I feel like I’ve temporarily expended my ability to word and am rambling only semi-coherently. But I’ve neglected this blog too long. It’s time to get back to it, to the kind of self-reflective writing that helps me to understand what I’ve written and what I think about all of it.