It’s Thanksgiving Day 2018. Since I have the time today, I thought I’d take a moment to talk just the littlest bit about The Process – of writing.
Some people are really into plotting and planning, but I don’t do outlines or anything like that. I keep unorganized notebooks that are packed with random thoughts and general crap.
The last time I attempted National Novel Writing Month in November 2014 I had a notebook that I filled with ideas and snippets of dialogue and names for characters and possible themes, settings, plots. There are a couple full scenes I wrote out when an idea would seem particularly promising. It took me filling up the whole notebook before I even settled on what the story might be about, and even then, once I got started it veered and careered way off-target.
And that’s what happens once I begin the actual writing and the characters start talking and doing their thing; it really is like I’m just taking dictation sometimes – I truly “see” every scene as it happens and hear every voice that speaks.
(It’s the same when I’m reading a book – a voice is present in my head at all times as my eyes read the words, but it’s never my voice, and it’s never the same voice from book to book, or if other characters or points of view are present. I don’t know if this means I’m crazy. But it probably does.)
(Also: as I get older I realize that the voices I hear saying the dialogue in my stories are used and reused for different characters – kind of like realizing as a kid that the same actor or actress did different cartoon character voices on The World of Hanna-Barbera.)
On good days, this is what’s awesome about writing: there’s a whole world inside my head full of people living and talking and thinking and fucking and dying and working and succeeding and failing. If it’s a good writing day, that world comes out of my head and into the world where I actually live and is almost real, and can create real feelings and reactions in another human being. And no two human beings are ever going to “see” that other world I’ve created exactly the same, or hear the same voices, or arrive at the same conclusions in the same way.
That’s very intimate, and that’s what I like about it.
On bad days, not only is it hard to make the world inside my head come out in a way that seems real; there’s also the nagging thought that being able to do that is of no use to anyone anywhere in any way whatsoever. Which is true, of course. I always have to push that thought not just aside, but over a cliff after shooting it and setting it on fire and stabbing it, if I ever want to write a single word.
It’s not always easy – that thought is a tough-assed, street-fighting bitch with a wooden leg and an eye patch and knuckle dusters on each hand.
Even if I get past that Swamp of Negativity, there are more perils in the path ahead.
The path ahead is always crooked – crooked, full of unexpected dips and bumps. On one side of the path is a sheer rock face that can send pebbles, stones, and boulders rolling straight toward you. On the other side of the path is just a drop-off of a couple hundred feet, nothing you want to lose your balance near, rest assured.
We’ll further explore this in a future post.