The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Journal of a Wannabe Novelist

by Antonios Maltezos

Day 1

(This is going to feel like baby steps until I can build some steam.)
First thing I did was make my novel accessible from the desktop. I gave it its own folder and created a shortcut. I know. I know. But this isn’t like before when I was sabotaging my ambitions for becoming a novelist by working on everything but the novel (this journal doesn’t count). I’m more mindful of the distractions now, fearful even.

Next thing I did was open the damn thing to page one …

As has been the norm lately when I try working on the novel, I read the first paragraph, and then reread it some more, bothered by the same simple question. How do I have my protagonist say something as he’s getting off his stool and moving to the front door? Silly, huh? It’s as if my mind refuses to move on. You can’t imagine how many different ways I’ve found to write this paragraph. The scene never changes, just the wording. I’m stalling, and I think I know why. My opener isn’t flowing into the next paragraph, and that may be the reason I’m finding it difficult to get back into it. I wrote this rough draft at high speed, without giving much thought to those filler paragraphs that help set the tone of a story, which, according to everything I’ve planned, should be dark as hell! I have this rough draft, but I almost can’t recall why I was excited about it in the first place. I allowed that part of the process to get away from me. So this is what I have at the moment, page after page; paragraph and then bald spot where something should be added in, a paragraph and then bald spot where something should be added in…

For what it’s worth, I think the opener to the novel is the right one, and that I should let it be for now. It’s short and sweet. I introduce the protagonist in the environment he’s most comfortable, his local bar, the place he’s wasted most of his life, the place he has to leave behind if he’s going to follow his destiny by measuring himself up against his greatest fears. But following the opener with scenes whose only purpose is to move the plot along makes for writing that’s dead-like, a real chore to pick up when it’s time to get back to work. I see this kind of speed writing as a trap almost, something to be avoided, especially for us newbies.

Over the week-end, my mind kept going back to a little scene I’d remembered from a few dozen pages into the novel, where I described a bit of nastiness, where there was plenty going on, both emotionally and physically. When I looked up the actual passage, I was surprised to find that it was less involved than I’d imagined. Unbeknownst to me, I’d developed the scene in my mind. It had come alive, and that’s probably because I’d been thinking of the novel so much lately and it seemed like a natural place to have the story begin with some punch. This is where I’m going to find the energy to refresh the novel. This is where I’ll find the tone I was looking for. The plot point paragraphs that I’ll cut, I’ll store for later, when the appropriate spaces open up. It’s a first baby step in the right direction, I think. If I can’t feel excited about the opening pages of this novel, neither will the reader.

I also find that I’m having a difficult time reading the novel off the laptop. It feels like a puzzle, as if I’m not getting enough of the whole picture at once, and this, again, must have something to do with the flow. I need to print out the novel up until the sections I refresh, look at it like a slowly unfolding road map in the car. Otherwise, what? This novel is leading me blindfolded to each pit stop. Simple stuff, I know, but I need to establish these rules early on. I don’t want to find myself lost down the road.

I do hope you’ll chime in with advice, or your own experiences. For now, keeping this process transparent seems like the right thing to do for me.

Day 2

This is interesting. I can sense my confidence building, and that’s in part because of this journal. Feels like there’re two of us working on this project now – me, the writer dude, and me, the journal guy. If author dude gets stuck, or loses the zip, journal guy can help work things out. Cool! Weird!

I did the shuffling for the second paragraph yesterday; cutting out stuff I found distracting. To make those excised passages more vivid, interesting, will required specific details I haven’t built up to yet. What I replaced it with was a bit of creative writing, and something strange happened afterwards, something I hadn’t expected. The plot suddenly became more complex. Did I manage to scramble the novel in my head? Have I lost sight of the story? I don’t think so. I was simply struck with a truth about my protagonist I hadn’t realized before. That passage I moved up to the front, as I said, was full of emotional and physical intensity. It’s still the same novel, it’s just gotten more daunting, a challenge for me now because there’s some new stuff I’ll be dealing with as I deal with it. Not a bad thing at all. I think the darkness I injected so close to the beginning did the job of shifting the tone for me. I wouldn’t call it shining a light in the right direction. It was more like I turned over the right stone.

With this more complicated plot in mind, I’m tempted to jump ahead and slip things in I know will tie it all together, but I won’t. I have a record here of this little twist, and I’m going to let it work itself out.

Day 3

First dozen pages are to my liking, for now. They’re at a point where I know if I allow them to sit for a while I’ll come back to them with some easy improvements. I snuck a peek ahead a few pages, and I wasn’t destroyed. What I mean is that I think I can work with what I have there. I don’t usually do much writing over the week-ends, so wish me luck, hope I can get back to where I left off.

Just a little point I’d like to touch upon before I sign off. I don’t really care that I may be setting myself up to fail in this public place. I’m not thinking of that, but I am feeling ever-so-slightly as though I’m teetering on the edge of a cliff here. Every second I type for the novel, every second I work on this journal (a helluva lot more has been written and deleted), and every second of the day my thoughts fall back to this, for me, mega-project, I’m fighting what feels like a ferocious battle. No, that’s not right. It feels more like the time a hole, about the size of a kitchen sink drain, opened up in our pool liner while I was taking a dip. Thankfully, my wife noticed the water gushing, for lack of a better word, out from the side of the pool and onto the lawn. I immediately stepped over the hole, not knowing what else to do. I didn’t dare budge from there. I blocked that hole with my foot for twenty minutes while my wife rushed to Club Piscine for a patch kit. Those twenty minutes standing there, shivering, not knowing if a patch would hold, is what this feels like. The patch held, btw.


Blogger MelBell said...

Tony, this is great. I love that you've started a journal of your progress. Of course you can do this. It's not always going to be easy...or maybe it will be. Enjoy the journey. And thank you very much for inviting us along for the ride. :-) You are brave.

Sat Oct 13, 10:10:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

If you find you have an idea partway through and don't have the time to write it, make a quick inserted note in red to remind yourself later to write in the scene you had in mind.

For other little brainstorms, I keep a separate document with notes and twists in plot. Great for research tidbits, too.

I find it difficult to go over the manuscript on the computer, too. I get stuck in one segment and rework the snot out of it, totally forgetting about other parts of the novel.

Sat Oct 13, 11:37:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Hey, guys. For sure I'll keep this joural going for as long as I can. To be honest, I'm kinda curious to find out how it will end. Thanks for the tips, Chumplet.

Sat Oct 13, 08:57:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Tony, I relate to so much you've written here: the distractions, the reworking and reworking of the first paragraph, the discovery of truths about your protagonist. I go through that, too. But I'm going to enjoy experiencing the writing of a novel through you as I haven't tried one. So, thanks for sharing. I love that you've given yourself a "journal guy" for support. And I love the metaphor of the pool liner patch. Great stuff!

Sun Oct 14, 07:18:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

thanks, tricia. I'm going to try and enjoy this process.

Sun Oct 14, 09:04:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Great idea! Thanks for sharing your process with us- and more importantly good luck with the novel...

Mon Oct 15, 09:28:00 am GMT-4  

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