Sunday, July 19, 2009

More on my process and 'aha' moments

I used to wait for inspiration, for something to catch my eye or an idea to suddenly burst into a story. I thought that's what I needed in order for the words to work on the page. But then I grew up.

In high school, I realized that the "novel" I was writing wouldn't spring up overnight. All the words wouldn't be "given" to me, as if a gift from God. And, even if they were, if I wasn't ready, sitting at my computer or my pad of paper, writing, the words would disappear. (Eventually I finished that novel, while in high school, but let's just say that first novel is better left collecting dust.)

Writing, I realized, starts with sitting down and simply trying to get words down on the page. Inevitably, even if I didn't feel inspired, I'd become immersed in the world I was creating and then good luck in trying to get me to stop. Even after I put the story or chapter away, the story would simmer as I thought about how the next scene or section of dialogue would pane out.

The most amazing thing about grad school was that I spent a majority of my waking life - especially in Spring term - immersed in the world of Charlotte Corday and Anne-Marie Gessner. Sure, I had to pull away from the novel and attend classes and write unrelated papers, but the rest of the time, I was in Charlotte and Anne's heads, and no matter whether I felt inspired or not, I had to write. I had to, or my thesis wouldn't have been ready in time. I couldn't wait for 'aha' moments; I had to make them come to me.

After grad school ended and I relaxed into summer (and started stressing about finding a full-time job), the revision process waned, even as I continued to think about Through Charlotte's Eyes. I knew the novel was "done" for school, that I had a complete draft, that my thesis advisor and preceptor thought it publishable, but it still didn't feel ready. I thought I could do better.

People began to ask me, "But how do you know when it'll be ready? Will it ever be ready?"

Yes, my answer always is. There's just some things I still need to do. (More on this in tomorrow's blog post).

So, how do I make inspiration come to me? By talking and writing about my novel, by bouncing ideas off of people (especially my boyfriend) and thinking about my novel as I walk to work, ride the el, and do chores around the apartment. Inevitably, this process forces ideas through and I'm ready to get back to the page. This is how 'aha' moments happen - not by magic - but by thinking about my novel.

My latest 'aha' moment sprung the other day. I was telling my boyfriend about the catacombs in Paris, which I've become obsessed with lately, and how I need to work them into my novel because they're so creepy. Plus, that's where Charlotte is supposedly buried.

As I'm telling him about cataphiles (people who explore the catacombs at night, despite and probably because it's illegal), an idea hit me about what brings Anne to explore them. She's with a group of people visiting Paris on foreign term from America, and they decide to go check it out as they tell ghost stories about the underground tunnels that house the resting place of more than six million Parisians. But I was annoyed with how Anne had just met these people and I wasn't convinced that she's the kind of person to just tag along.

This brought up another nagging issue for me: there's too many characters that pop up for a couple scenes and then disappear. So, I thought about the beginning of my novel, about Anne overhearing a conversation between a couple girls her age. Why couldn't she end up meeting one of them (instead of just eavesdropping), and one of these girls is part of this group that goes down to the catacombs at night? AHA. BOOM. TA DA. The light went on, and ideas about this new character and friend to Anne - who doesn't disappear after a few chapters - flooded my head. She's a foil to Anne's best friend who's back in Illinois, at home.

I'm giving too much away, so I'll leave it at that. I recognize that this new idea means that I need to go back and rewrite parts of Chapter 1 through 11 again, but if that's the way it is, that's the way it is.

I have an idea in my head for how I want this novel to be and it will not be ready until I achieve that picture. So, thank you friends, family, and fellow bloggers for your support while I work on this novel, but I've still got a ways to go. If you want to talk about the novel, I'd love to - in fact, I welcome it - but please try to avoid the question of "When's the novel going to be done?" I promise you. It will be complete and finished...eventually. But when this novel gets published, I want it to be everything I want and need it to be, and until then, it won't be ready.

1 comment:

anicalewis said...

I definitely know what you mean. For me, writing the first three fourths or so of a novel is quite different from writing the rest because stuff doesn't weave together as much. You're still introducing characters and settings, pushing stuff around, making things happen as it seems like they should. I, for one, am often unsure of what little things will be important later and what won't.

When you get closer to the end, though, suddenly things have to come together. They have to tie in. And that, for me, is when the magic realizations start to happen. Sure, sometimes realizing that I can do X means that I have to go back to Scene Y and change Event Z, but it's worth it.