E.L. Doctorow compared the process of writing a novel to driving to a new city. You could use a map and plan the route; or you could simply get on the road… even though you can only see what’s directly ahead, you can reach your destination that way.
He was comparing the two primary writing approaches — outline extensively, or write what you can envision in a scene then write the next one and so on until the rough draft is completed.
I’m straddling these techniques. I have a clear idea of the primary conflict — what I hope will be the engine of the novel. However, as to how the story will unfold… that’s occurring as I write. I have a notebook beside my laptop where I jot down additional scenes as they occur to me. Sometimes other scenes are required to provide context for the one I’ve written.
Those who outline often insist that it’s the “only” way to write, while those who write by the seat of their pants believe that they lose the magic if they know what’s going to happen ahead of time. I recognize that those who outline allow their novel to go in new directions, and I’m sure that most writers who “don’t plan” have ideas about what will happen over the course of the novel.
I’ve been telling myself: no one has to read it. I don’t have to show these pages to anyone. Just keep going. These thoughts provide security and remove the notion there are eyes looking over my shoulder.
While reading, I often come across exactly what I need. It happened last night as I studied essays about the writing process. Here’s what Neil Gaiman said in an interview about writing a novel: “You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.”
Based on my expected word count (80,000 — 90,000 words) I believe I’ll have a full rough draft by around October. However, I’m giving myself until the end of this year to complete it. Because I’m primarily a poet — and poets revise and revise and revise — I anticipate major revisions for some months thereafter. The goal, though, at this stage of the game is to finish this rough draft. That’s “all” I have to do.
Maybe I’ll learn that I’m not a novelist. Or maybe I’ll discover that I have the skills after all. But either way, I won’t know unless I finish.
Today is Friday June 19th, a rainy and cool day in Hämeenkyrö. I know the scene I need to write and and so off to the manuscript I go.
(Wish me luck.)