I knew this day would come. For months, I’ve been anticipating it with equal parts dread and jubilation. Well, no. That’s crap. I’ve dreaded it. The day I would begin writing Novel Two.
My mind has reached forward these past couple of months, wondering which story drifted just beyond my grasp. What would I write next? I have a few ideas tucked away, but none of them feels right, not right now. With Novel One, I had a very clear picture in my head of two characters, two eras, a place and one footnote to history. That’s a lot to start with. It’s a whole plot, in fact.
This time, however, no strong image came to me, no question begged to be answered and I’ve felt a little panicky. Shoving away the doubts and keeping my focus on the story in front of me, I told myself to trust the writing.
During this journey I’ve learned—particularly when things got very scary late summer-early fall and I was certain I’d birthed a disaster—to keep writing. Eventually, you will write yourself out of a hole. You’ll figure it out before you even realized you’ve figured it out. You just keep writing. It all comes together in the end.
Friday, I sent Novel One to the publisher I’d pitched to in October. I met my goal and set the manuscript aside, to be reviewed and revised in the months to come.
I gave myself Saturday to rest and savor the ending of one thing and the delicious anticipation of something new. I went for a long run, during a NOAA-defined “hazardous wind event.” I managed to find a brief window where the rain held off and the wilds winds sent the clouds scurrying to Vancouver Island. The rest of the day it rained needles and sunspikes, but I had dry ten miles.
During my run, I caught this interview with E.L. Doctorow on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. Doctorow chatted with host Scott Simon about the inspiration for his new novel, Andrew’s Brain, and about the process of writing. What he said was a balm to my fretting soul. It’s a great interview. Listen to it.
“..write in order to find out what you’re writing. You don’t start with an outline and a plan, you start with these images that are very evocative to you…” E.L. Doctorow
I’m not much of an outliner or planner. I tend to write to my intuition and let my characters guide my pen. That all sounds very lovely and mysterious, but an inexperienced writer can sure twist an ankle or sprain a wrist falling into her own plot holes this way. Ahem.
With Novel One, I was so eager to begin the journey and so terrified I wouldn’t retake the road if I stopped along the way, that I didn’t bother to fill the gas tank or stop at the ATM for cash on the way out of town.
With Novel Two, I’m taking a more structured approach, while still allowing for the magic of accident and the unforeseen. I will begin by discovering whom I’m writing about, and why.
After my run, I curled up on the sofa, turned to page one of a murder mystery set in 1919 Surrey, England and didn’t move until I came to “The End” a few hours later, when it was time to share an Old Guardian Barleywine with my husband and watch The Godfather.
Yesterday, I mucked around with laundry, grocery shopping, yoga, baking bread, shredding a bunch of crap, organizing a bookshelf, doing a sweep of my hard drive, watering plants, until the weight of what I had to do became too heavy to carry. I had to face the blank page.
I took a brand-new notebook, my favorite pens, walked to a café overlooking the bay and the Olympic Mountains and there I began to write. I wrote eight pages of a character sketch, discovering the protagonist of a story that’s only beginning to take shape in my mind, because I’ve only just met the woman who has given me her story to tell. Give us some space. Give us some time. We’ll get back to you.