The first time I tried to write a novel, it was NaNoWriMo and I had a vague idea about writing something. Mostly I just wanted to see if I could write that much and possibly string together a narrative. I had a (terrible) idea and I got to writing.
(It didn’t go well, if you’re wondering.)
I have it somewhere, I mine it for parts when I need to, but for the most part? It sits there, doing nothing. But I learned from it – I learned the dedication I’d need, I learned to let myself just write and let it be shit sometimes (all the time), I learned how to enjoy watching the word count stack up. It was a vital exercise, but that’s all it was. An exercise.
Now I’m writing the book I want to write. Now I’m writing the story I’m passionate about, the story I’ve lived with for just over two years. (I’m not kidding about that, by the way. I got this story idea in July of 2013 when a friend put out a call for kind of creepy stories for a magazine she was starting.) I know this story backwards and forwards. I know where it starts, I know where it ends.
If anybody has ever written a book before, they’re laughing at me. I know they are.
You know how I know they’re laughing? Because novels do not do what you expect. Characters do not do what you expect. They have minds of their own and you just have to sit back and let them do what they need to do. You might have a plot point in mind, and it might be the right thing, but they have a totally new way of getting there.
I tried explaining it to my friend Jen a week or two ago. Jen is kind of the perfect person for me to try to explain things to when I want to get really concrete images because we think really differently. She’s also basically the biggest cheerleader I have when I’m working on a project, so even though I don’t really talk about big projects while I’m working on them (people don’t seem to accept “I don’t know yet” as an answer, nor do they love “Well, it’s kind of about arranged marriages, corrupt societies, what happens if you separate justice from mercy – or if you even can – feeling out of step with your surroundings, anger management, the Japanese space program, and the line between love and obsession”) and I was trying to explain this phenomenon to her.
“It’s like you’ve been given directions and somebody told you where you were going, but you got distracted and didn’t totally hear them. So you’re following the directions and you see where you thought you were going and say, ‘Oh! I’m going to New York! I thought I was going to Newark.’ Same basic direction, totally different destination.”
That’s what this is like. I think I understand things, I think I understand the characters and then I have these all-caps revelations (no, seriously, my notes in Scrivener are often in all caps because I just can’t get over the shit I’m figuring out about this society) and suddenly I’m as surprised as anybody else about what’s going to happen. I mean, sure, I know it a little sooner, but dang. Daaaaaaang.
But, as my friend Stuart tells me, first thoughts are wrong thoughts. Projects should change and grow as they develop, and that’s reassuring. I’d hate to think I had everything figured out – if I did, there’d be no reason to write things down.