Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Writing - Puzzling out the Pieces

I'm writing a novel.

There, I said it. A few select people are aware of this, and I even recently joined a writing group that has really helped me to plow through the hard parts of the process. But the majority of the people in my life have absolutely no idea I'm doing this. Part of the reason is that I'm still in my rough draft phase, and I don't want anyone to see my work yet. Some of it sucks, some of it makes no sense, and some of it leads nowhere. I want to have a chance to polish things up first once I've completed version one.

Another reason I'm not very forthcoming about this fact is that I'm not ready to answer those inevitable questions about what it's about or who the main characters are. I think part of this is a little nagging sense of self-doubt. I love my story, but I'm not quite ready to hear that someone else doesn't. This is a piece of myself that I want to show to the world someday, but that time has not yet come because the manuscript is far from complete, let alone up to my high standards.

Last night I hit 28,000 words, and even though it seems impressive it really means I haven't even cracked the halfway point yet. Part of the fun of this process is that I don't know exactly where things are going to end up. I know how I want them to end, but this could easily change at any time. New ideas keep popping up in my head, whether a new character or a new direction that things can take. I know this isn't the way many writers do things. I know many have a detailed outline or some other process they go through before actually sitting down and tapping out the novel on their computer. But I started with a general description. I keep a separate document with information I may need later: Facts, character names, scene ideas that I think would be fun, etc.

Sometimes I wonder if an outline would have been better. For example, last night I was completely stuck. I had finished one scene and was ready to start the next, which I had thoroughly fleshed out in my mind already. The only problem is that there was a small in-between part that would segue me into the next scene that I could not figure out. Nothing I thought of made sense, and unfortunately this little in-betweener wasn't something I could just gloss over for right now. Even though it was only a few paragraphs, that little piece would carve out the future of several important supporting characters. I was stumped, and admittedly I was completely frustrated with myself for having gotten this far before realizing that I had absolutely no clue what to do. I should have had an outline because this would have been a non-issue. I could have just consulted my outline, tossed it into the story, and I would have been done with it rather than spending a good two hours stewing as I tried to toss in a few sentences here and there.

In my head I tested out various scenarios. What if this happened, and then from there I went here? Or what if that happened? If that happened, I couldn't go there. And as I did all this, it occurred to me that my writing process is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I start by finding those corner pieces because they're easy, and they're incredibly important if you plan on actually completing the puzzle. From there the edges are hunted out, and I slowly begin to put them together to create a frame. But the rest is a mystery. Sometimes I have to take several pieces and try fitting them together to see if they fit or try fitting one piece to the frame of the puzzle. Sometimes it works and snaps into place, but sometimes it's all wrong and I need to try again.

I did end up finding a solution I liked for my in-betweener, and once that happened I had no problems forging ahead and completing that next scene. I was proud of myself for being able to work through it in a way that pleased me and opened up future possibilities in my story. After this was all said and done, I admit that I contemplated outlining the rest of my novel before continuing on. But some voice inside my head told me to stick with puzzling out the pieces because not knowing everything right now makes me feel like I'm on an adventure. I feel like I'm a reader in a way, where I have an inkling of where things might be going but at any time something could shake things up. It allows me more perspective, which I think will make for a better story in the end. Sure it will require a lot of clean up, but honestly isn't that the way all writing is?

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