Bam! It’s October. When did that happen? Obviously, on the 1st, six days ago. Point is, October’s come around quickly. Before it too slips off into the murky waters of memory, like a seal from the rocks, desperate to catch up with its friends in the depths below, I should really talk about September and (alert: pun incoming!) how it went.
September was a busy a month, with time away in Rhodes (see Featured Image) and Lyme Regis, and I was conscious not to lose the momentum I’d gained in August with the construction of my puzzle. (Or, in less analogous terms, the planning of my novel.) I was anxious that I would, especially as I was no longer working in the nursery—physical labour is a wonderful creative stimulus.
Despite this, September turned out well. The image of my puzzle grew clearer still.
Currently, my planning involves a lot of day-dreaming and sending texts to myself with ideas, which I later transcribe to a notepad the size of a coffee table, so my ideas are in one semi-ordered place. Many—if not all—authors suggest carrying a small notebook to write ideas in, which I used to do. In the last couple of months I’ve opted for my phone instead. Ideas are often sudden, like the first pull of a fish on a line, and just as slippery. Using a phone is much easier and quicker (yes, even with my fat thumbs), whether its in the blackness of early morning, or halfway through the woods on the afternoon dog walk. Some of these ideas are encouraged by questions I ask myself, while others tumble out of the blue into my eager grasp.
Even with the terrible burden of a double holiday and the lack of nursing my creativity, I was pleased to end September with nearly as many notes as I’d written in August. Not only was it reassuring to maintain my momentum despite these changes, it’s made me feel that my current concept for Everborne is worthy. Because I can’t stop thinking about it.
And that has been a niggling worry. Is my idea good enough? And, really, it’s only one I can answer. Some days, when the thought toes the forefront of my mind, I don’t. I just ignore it. That’s what I’ve started to do with my doubt. I acknowledge it, then I move on. It’s not going to help me get to where I want to be. Having said that, my thoroughness, which is (alert: another pun incoming!) no doubt a consequence of my half-buried doubt, will.
Part of my thoroughness is to ensure I gain a more rounded view on the craft of writing. This month I re-read Scarlett Thomas’s Monkeys with Typewriters and How to Write by Harry Bingham. Both books were helpful, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed re-reading MwT, which is written by my past university lecturer. Even though I’d read it a couple of times when at uni, I found it enlightening this time round. Perhaps more so than when I first thumbed its pages. I like to think my writer’s mind has matured, to be more receptive to good advice.
Reading books like these is not only helpful—they often, consciously and subconsciously, force me to ask myself questions about the on-going construction of Everborne—it can also be reassuring. Say I’m reading about what makes a good opening scene. It’s reassuring to be able to compare and mentally tick off the criteria the book is instructing to what I’ve already planned. Granted, my opening scene is not yet written, but it gives me confidence for when I come to write it. It makes me think, Yes, this idea is good enough.
Sure, sometimes something I read is new to me. It might be something I’ve not considered before. That’s OK. It doesn’t dissuade me, nor shatter my fragile confidence. After all, that’s exactly why I’m reading these books. To help me avoid common pitfalls and easy mistakes. To be unable to understand the craft of writing so I can apply it.
And applying it, of course, is where I want to be. In my last post I hoped that would be November. . . It still might be, just maybe not on the 1st. Probably, though, before December.
There are a few more books I have to finish first, as well as typing up my accompanying notes to my master document. (52,305 words and counting. As I said, thorough!) I also want to type up my ideas. (That’s right, the very ones I transcribed from my phone onto my coffee-table-sized note pad. I admit, this is partly through an irrational fear of losing such a ridiculously sized note pad to something destructive like fire, but it’s also so I can better order my ideas and so I’m able to access them from anywhere [with an internet connection].) I would also like to do some more brainstorming, to push my ideas so I’m comfortable enough with them to begin writing. I do feel like I’m reaching that point, it just might not coincide with the turn of the month.
I am conscious to not over-plan, though. To use the planning stage as a safety net. Every writer varies in their craft, and planning is no exception. Some, like Stephen King, do a little. Others, like Brandon Sanderson, do a lot. I will probably end up somewhere in the middle.
I want to know my main characters better, before I allow them to colour the page. I want to have a clearer idea of my opening, perhaps even the first act. I know the beginning and I have a vision for the end; I have a good idea of the things I’d like to happen in-between.
What I don’t want is to plan the entire story before it’s written. Not only does this risk a too-formulaic, or predictable, story, but I feel the approach leads to a lot of narrative shoehorning. Like Season 7 of Game of Thrones, the story becomes more about the demands of the plot than the organic decisions of the characters.
When I was writing the first draft of Everborne, I had a character, Amaryllis. Her plot was ‘A Stranger Comes to Town’ and she was the stranger recently arrived in an even stranger town. All the locals had blue eyes; there’s an over-abundance of staring cats, with eyes of the same blue; there’s no Christmas decorations strung up or twinkling in the middle of December; and so on. At one point, she’s trying to escape a character with a gun, who she thinks is leading her somewhere remote so he can shoot her. I’d planned Amaryllis to “escape” and run home, to her mum’s house—who she could no longer trust, owed to the new, unnatural hue of her eyes. I re-wrote the scene several times and struggled with it each time. Something just wasn’t right. Then I realised my mistake. It was how the scene ended. Amaryllis wouldn’t return to her mum’s house. It wasn’t what her character would do. It’s what the plot demanded her to do.
Instead, I want to treat planning a story like I would a game of chess. I want to set up my pieces (the characters) on the board (the setting, the conflicts) and go from there. I don’t prepare the board knowing each and every move I’ll make afterwards—I can’t, because I don’t know what my opponent will do. If I did, I wouldn’t be responding to my opponent’s moves, and could be leaving myself open to a quick and embarrassing defeat. In the same way, I don’t know what my characters will truthfully do and how they’ll respond to the story until they’re on the page.
Trusting myself may not come as naturally as doubting myself does, but I need to listen to my instincts. To listen to what feels right. To what I think I should be doing, and not what I think others think I should be doing. “Are you writing yet?” In some way, I won’t ever be ready. I’m aware a part of me is nervous to resume writing; to do so is another chance of a failed, unfinished manuscript. But the preparation I’ve done these past couple of months and the preparation I believe I need to do isn’t a safety net. It’s a launch pad.
[The Windmills of Mandraki, Rhodes, another place with an over-abundance of cats. How was I here a month ago?!]