The Long and Lonely Road
As I write this new novel, I realize it’s been a while since I’ve written something this long. I’ve written lots of shorter pieces in between this work and my novel Denby Jullsen, Hughenden. These were non-fiction pieces, articles and blogposts.
It’s easier to write non-fiction.
For me, it’s way easier to write non-fiction than fiction. Writing about my life is easy because I’m living my life. I like to share my experiences with readers and I like to hear them respond, “Hey! I had a similar experience.” Getting this audience feedback is great, and it confirms what I’ve always thought to be true: telling our stories brings us together.
Listen to me read this post:
When I write a post or an article, I can count on some almost-immediate feedback. These shorter pieces generate interest and conversation. It doesn’t take long to read and listen to what I post, and social media and my WordPress blog make it quick to comment on posts. I do get a few letters from readers of my newspaper articles and I really appreciate these, as well. Letters take a little more time in this rushing world of ours.
Inventing fictional characters and scenarios to involve them in is much harder than writing about true events. It helps that some of my characters and some of their situations are based loosely in local history. This, at least, gives me some solid ground to stand on.
Writing a book is lonely work!
I forgot how lonely writing a book is. These summer months, I wake up each morning and the day stretches out long and peaceful before me. I prepare to write and I hope that the characters will reveal themselves to me. Usually they do, but it takes a lot of coaxing for them to emerge from the shadows of my distracted mind. Sometimes I have to write pages of what amount to nothing before those fictional folks finally agree to fully form.
I plot out my novels now. I didn’t used to as much, but that’s a harder way to write, just diving in and hoping that you land on that creative shore on the other side before you drown in a sea of disjointed ideas.
A directionless plot means more wasted pages.
Talk about wasted pages of writing! Back when I didn’t set out plots or roughly sketch characters, my imagination ran like crazy. This is only good if your imagination knows where the heck it’s going. Mine didn’t always.
When I started composing Denby Jullsen (about twenty years prior to its publication) my imagination had no destination. The Ghost of Northumberland Strait, my first young adult novel, didn’t know where it was going either. This is probably why both manuscripts sat gathering dust for many years before they saw the light of day. Both books needed to have full chapters removed before they were ready to be published. Painful! These days, that kind of literary amputation isn’t necessary because I try to write only what needs to be written.
Researching and planning pays off in better writing.
Nowadays, I do my research. I pore over history books and old newspapers. I have a large scrapbook with manila pages, and in it I create timelines and floorplans. Then I handwrite large sections of the manuscript before I type it. I got this idea from Peter Elbow and his book Writing with Power. This allows me to get some of the “garbage” I inevitably write out of my pen and onto paper so it never has to be on a computer screen.
I’ve done both. I’ve typed my fresh thoughts straight into a Word document, and I’ve sat down and handwritten my work before touching the keyboard. It is a rare exception when a composition I’ve only typed – not handwritten – turns out smoother and clearer than one I’ve written out longhand and then word processed.
It’s typed, it must be done…
It’s tempting once I’ve typed something to convince myself that it’s publishable. It might look like it’s ready, but most times writing at this stage has a mighty long way to go. It just seems finished because it’s all dressed up in that neat font. Upon closer examination, you’ll find it hasn’t brushed its teeth or washed its hair, and there’s dirt behind its ears.
I took several solid writing courses while studying for my editing certificate through Simon Fraser University. The coursework and the course instructors guided me in understanding the writing process. Essentially I was given a writing map so I wouldn’t need to get lost and backtrack all the time. To say that this training improved my writing would be an understatement.
It feels like a longer road, but I’ll follow the map.
Right now I’m handwriting this post at my kitchen table. When I think I’m done this part, I’ll take my pad of paper down the hall to my office and rework this piece of writing. When this is published, I’ll continue the more difficult and lonelier job of writing my new novel. I’m half way through the first draft. I handwrite each chapter, following an outline, and then I type each chapter.
Don’t get me wrong. It is solitary, this task of writing another book, but I choose to do it. No one is forcing me. This is what I want to create, and I’m grateful to have the chance to do it.
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