So I’ve finally started writing another novel. (No, it’s not a NaNoWriMo project; you can’t get word-count updates when you write longhand). To date I have 20 pages of scribble, and when I look at them from a certain angle I get a feeling of total futility.
The thing about writing with a pen on paper is that I’m not tempted to go back and read what I’ve laid down so far and either start tinkering with it or give up. As I push the pen, though, I keep thinking, “This isn’t going well. In fact, I think this might just be crap.” I compare the plodding feel of the writing with my plot aspirations and get that “Let’s crumple now” feeling.
But wait! I tell myself. This is a first draft. It’s supposed to be imperfect. In fact, it’s not so much the novel I want to write as a platform and supporting structure for that novel, a kind of armature for the graceful arcs, curves and pinnacles that will result after much writing and rewriting. I’m sketching scenes, assembling character details, filling in backstory and depositing info dumps, moving material, testing balance and supports.
Writing a novel really is like building a physical structure. You need to dig a foundation (develop a plot), gather materials (do research), build a set of forms for concrete or supporting structures (write a first draft following the plot line from start to finish). Or you can do the pre-fab approach — write individual scenes to be fitted together later.
The analogy breaks down when it comes to rewrites and editing; you cant’ take a building apart and put it back together with bits removed or repositioned. Not easily, anyway. Once that concrete is poured, changing your mind becomes an expensive proposition involving jackhammers. Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V are so much easier.
It really helps if you’re happy with what you’re creating, even in its incomplete or preliminary state. If your structure has a visible lean, you have to deal with the shaky foundation before you pile more stuff on it. If you know your plot is feeble or nonexistent, you have to do some fundamental thinking before your entire project collapses in a cloud of dust and (metaphorical) rubble.
So – back to my nascent novel. It’s a sequel to my Herbert West Series (yes, the one I swore I was finished with a couple of years ago), but a couple of generations later (1960s) and a different setting (Egypt).
The plot in brief: France Leighton, a young woman (who is Herbert West/Francis Dexter’s granddaughter) graduates from college and gets an opportunity to work at an archaeological excavation near Egypt’s Valley of Kings. She takes off from Providence, Rhode Island with her cello, a manuscript and an emerald ring.
Life at the dig proves to be a challenge – hot, tedious and full of difficult people – but the mysteries of the Valley of Kings and an intriguing collector of antiquities offer compensations, until a geologist is found dead and France finds herself in peril. She must decipher the secrets of her ancestral legacy and find a way to elude a deadly peril.
So I’ve laid the foundation, but need to get together a load of materials in the form of facts and theories about Egyptology, the geology of the Valley of Kings, how cellos react to low humidity, when did balloon flights over Luxor become available, and so on. Lots of googling and reading lie ahead.
And the 20 pages of scribble? I’ve been avoiding them for the past few days, pleading a need to do research and make notes, but this morning on the radio I heard someone say that in any creative project the most important thing is to show up with intent, so tonight I will return to my writing room, take pen in hand and forge ahead.
And so must all you NaNoWriMo-ites whose resolve has faltered – back to those keyboards! Write on regardless!