Over the past few nights, I’ve woken up at exactly 3:33 a.m. with thoughts about my current novel-in-process running through my head.
What if, I’ve been thinking… and following this curve of questioning has led me to discover an exciting twist (at least to me…) that I’m now incorporating into my new W.I.P. (work in progress).
It doesn’t look like working: sitting in the dim pool of light cast by the bedside lamp in our spare room, balancing the cat, my notebook, a pen in my lap, sometimes scribbling but mostly thinking. My mind ravels and unravels the connections and potential outcomes. It’s like doing math, but fun math, like some sort of physics.
I love this stage of the story-making process. This is the third draft, so I’ve already written through the story twice. I’ve drafted the lake’s surface and now I’m plunging deeper, discovering the nuance of shadow and form. What lives inside, and the muck and stone and grit and sunken cedar logs that make up the architecture of it depths.
The truth of this, is that I wouldn’t be here without having written that first imperfect, hasty, exciting, even fun draft. The one that presents characters who I don’t yet know, in circumstances I’m not yet clear on, in description that’s sometimes over-written and sometimes lacking in detail.
“This bit drifts into another person’s perspective,” somebody in my writing group told me last week, and “It didn’t buy the extreme cold.” (Only in Winnipeg, someone joked, would we spend 15 minutes talking about whether the descriptions of bitter cold were convincing).
I wrote this first draft in fits and starts over a couple of months last fall when I was also working a full-time job. In the morning, I’d leave early and stop at a Starbucks and write for 15 minutes or so. Sometimes, in the night, the story would wake me up and I’d let it, then go to work tired, then come home and go to bed early enough to repeat it all the next day.
The story pulsed out of me and by the time I came to the ending (an imperfect ending that’s changed radically three times), I knew more than I had when I started and I had a mere 20,000 words. (Swarm, at the end of my first draft, was about 30,000).
This is how I work: getting that first sketch down, then starting again at the beginning, layering as I type up the entire long-hand draft, figuring out character intentions and desires, what scenes are needed, adding and taking away (but mostly adding). Writing and revising plot outlines now and then as I go.
Now, the new book is nearly 50,000 words and with the middle-of-the-night revelation of said twist, I’m thinking it’ll likely end up at around 70,000, the size of a short-ish novel. This morning I wrote two new lengthy scenes that earlier this week, I didn’t know I needed to create.
Anyone can sketch. Anyone can paint. Anyone can create (and then, learn how to do it better if it’s a pursuit they decide they want to devote themselves to). But we all have our excuses: I often say that I can’t draw to save my life (my mom, after all, exemplifies this particular talent). My brother could do anything creative that he attempted, often on the first try. But, in truth, when we begin, the product needs to be besides the point. The judgement of what’s arriving out of us has to be put on hold – in order for us to explore, figure out what’s in store for this particular project, and then both get better at it and let it get better.
My objectives in writing this new book were to write (because when I’m writing regularly I’m always happier, better grounded, more together) and to have fun. I wanted to push the envelope a bit and play and also tell some truths I haven’t yet told.
At that time, I was exploring horror writing, probably initiated by my overnight stay at the Victorian-era Dalnavert House, and the long and interesting conversation we had that night about horror writing which you can listen to right here, so I dove in. To play with emotion, to push the bounds of believability, to alter time and space while digging into how time and space are regularly mysteriously altered? Fun!
When we play, we don’t strive. When we play, we connect. Simply connect, wrote D. H. Laurence (I think it was D. H. Laurence… I’m currently locked off of the Internet with my Freedom app so I can’t check). Fact check: it was E. M. Forster… “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted.”
I also like how pragmatically Julia Cameron puts it: “Writing is about getting something down, not thinking something up. Whenever I strive to “think something up,” writing becomes something I must stretch to achieve. It becomes loftier than I am, perhaps something so lofty, it is beyond my grasp. When I am trying to think something up, I am straining. When, on the other hand, I am focused about just getting something down, I have a sense of attention but not a sense of strain.”
There’s a reason these understandings about plot come in the middle of the night. That’s naturally a time outside of straining, when I’m half inside sleep, half out . The attention that I’m putting towards my work is soft and pliable and ready to sprout.
So, here’s the invitation. If you want to write, get something down. Do it in ten minute per day chunks, if you’re overly busy. Or start attending to your stories when you go to bed – ask yourself a couple of what ifs? – then write in the morning. You might be surprised at what your mind will deliver.