I’m working again on that novel I wrote about in The White Hot Flow of Writing some time ago. I feels good to be back in the saddle after that long interval. I’m making good progress so far, putting in 30 hours of writing a week, or more if you count the reading research, of which there is plenty. I enjoy the research almost as much as the writing.
I started in again with the intention to write one full draft and one full revision in one year. It’s more of an experiment, actually. To see if it’s possible, especially with a historical novel set in Central America in the 70’s during all the political unrest and guerrilla warfare going on at that time.
In the White Hot Flow post, I wrote in more detail about the characters and plot, and especially more about my writing process, which I’ve copied in part below. It remains pretty much the same process as now, even after such a long break.
First there’s a germ of an idea, and then the need to anchor it in reality. The need to immerse myself in some aspect of the history, the setting, the geography, the larger ideas that underpin what I’m aiming to write: Research.
( I’m still researching now, and that “germ” keeps growing the more I learn.)
Next in the process comes the need to discover the names and voices of my main characters. I cannot write a word without that. This almost happens simultaneously. The voices must have names to embody them, the names must have voices to bring the alive. The names evoke the voices, the voices evoke the names: Lena and Raoul.
(This remains the same, although the list of names grow as I add characters. within out their name, how can I embody them?)
Once I have these, there’s no stopping them. They take over my life. They start telling me their stories and I run and grab a pen. I keep on writing, pages after pages in my notebook and on my computer. I look up and morning has turned to nightfall. It doesn’t matter. They follow me to bed. I sleep with them. I dream them. I wake up writing love poems in their voices.
(Yes, this is the sweet spot, the white, hot flow of writing, and I still have mornings where I sit in bed till noon with my yellow writing pad and blue pen, taking dictation from my characters.)
Then I need at least a vague sense of how the novel will open, how it will close. It may change along the way, but I need this parenthesis to contain my writing and to show me where it’s moving. They tell me.
When I have the beginning and the ending, keys scenes in between emerge. I write them down quickly before they disappear. They may change over time, but at least I have key points upon which to hang my novel.
By then my characters have become real to me. They have flesh and bone, names, voices, histories. They have deep, deep urges, conflicting desires, inner and outer struggles, a sense of transformation.
It’s like watching a miracle unfold. How they seem to come from nowhere, out of thin air, then suddenly they are breathing bodies, passionate, possessed.
(It still feels that way.)
Eventually I had so many handwritten scenes and research notes and ideas I had to organize them into folders of where they will fall in the novel, which I’ve divided now into 5 parts.
Now I’m in the messy process of inputting the raw material into word documents and shaping them into actual chapters. This is the hard work of writing—not flow, but fits and starts and stops: slowing down when I hit a snag, reversing course as I try out a new plotting strategy, or staring blankly at the screen as I try to reimagine how a scene could unfold. Sometimes I stop to do more research, or put on a load of laundry to give myself a break, or take a walk to clear my head. I take a notebook with me where ever I go in case the dam breaks and the words start flowing again.
But it’s all good, even when the little trolls in my head start complaining: Isn’t this a bit too ambitious? Do you think you might have bitten off more than you can chew? Do you really want to be a slave to this novel for the next year, or two, or whatever it takes? No, no, and yes, I reply.
I chose this. For now. And I’m loving it, even the hard work and crazy-making of the fits and stops and starts of the writing process, as well as the white, hot flow.
Lena and Raoul deserve to have their story told, and who is there to do it but me? I’m writing the kind of novel I would love to read, and even if no one reads it but me, well, that may just be enough.