My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living. Anais Nin
Today was the day. Today I wrote the opening paragraphs. I'd thought to spend days (weeks, really) drafting an outline, creating character sketches, compiling resources, delving into research. I knew, unlike the short stories I’ve written, I couldn’t pants a novel. Especially not historical fiction.
All those things await me. I know they must be done. I’ll work better within the comfort of structure, with direction and goals. I’m a Virgo after all: I emerged from the womb with an outline clenched in my wee fist. Of course, the ink was smeared so I have no idea what that outline contained. Hopefully I haven’t skipped over anything important. Sucks about the piano lessons. That was out of my control, anyway.
But damn if Virgos aren’t always working from a plan.
And that’s always been part of my problem. I worry too much about the how of the thing, instead of getting on with the doing of it.
So on this warm and glowing July day I sat myself - laptop in the spot for which it is named - at the base of a tree on a hill overlooking Elliott Bay. In fact, here’s the view, recorded and presented for the sake of posterity:
And I wrote. I wrote what I thought might be the beginning. I wanted to introduce myself to one of my principal characters, the woman who is going to carry the main thread of the story. I got her started, but then another central character started tapping a toe, suggesting his storyline would be the better one with which to begin. So he got a few paragraphs. Then I realized the real beginning was several miles away and months earlier. The page breaks accumulated as the first chapters shook out. Word count? Not so much. Racing brain? I pounded out the miles. Full throttle joy.
And there they are. My characters. Alive. Centuries apart from each other and an ocean away from me, but they are breathing. And heaven help me, I’m terrified. None of us has any idea what we’re in for.
I’d been tossing around three ideas for a novel for some time. I’d put off examining any of them seriously until a) I’d finished my wine certification program. Well, that ended in May. I still have no idea if I passed. But I’ve mostly stopped analyzing to bits every glass of wine I meet. And b) I’d finished my writing program. I mailed my final story June 21 and hit the road the same day to attend the delightful Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, WA.
Then life turned to custard. I'm working on that proverbial reclamation of mojo. Mourning is an ebb and flow of anger, grief, peace and acceptance; sometimes you are drowning, other times you are stranded. What you hope for is to prolong the times when you are just riding the waves.
But at that conference I had the first inkling I could shape at least one of these ideas into something resembling a story. The ideas battled for attention, each presenting a sound argument why theirs was the one I should pursue: one wouldn’t require research, one would be the most commercially viable, one would be legit literary.
So I asked myself, “WWSKD?” And my self replied, “Stephen King would tell you the same thing he told everyone in his most excellent On Writing. ‘Write what you love to read.’ So, if I follow that astute piece of advice, the choice comes down to Jamie Oliver cookbooks, which are already written by Jamie Oliver, and the story which now has its own folder on my hard drive. It even has a title.
I started a
story novel today. Check in with me in ten years. I’ll let you know how it’s going.