Saturday, August 22, 2009

An Intro

Ever wonder what goes on inside the deep dark recesses of a writer's mind? About the process I mean. Where it all comes from. How one idea leads to another, sometimes unleashing a flood. Or at other times, remains a solid wall of black.

When I wrote my first novel -- but wait, I'm getting way ahead of myself already. Get used to it. I do that.

A bit of background.

Yes, I am a published writer. What that means at this point is that I have had a few short stories published in Canadian literary magazines -- no small feat -- and a few other pieces, notably a children's story-poem, and essays in The Ottawa Citizen and Chatelaine magazine. Two of my stories have appeared in anthologies of short fiction. My work has risen to final judging in a couple of national competitions, and has been rewarded with a couple of grants for emerging writers. And as I write I actually have - Yay!! - a signed contract for my short story collection which is slated for a launch in spring 2010.

So I'm not, I think, without some credibility.

That said, I don't have a novel out -- yet. But we live in hope. My last effort garnered four very complimentary rejection letters. Two of them very close calls -- but still a "No" in the end. Two others sit in a drawer where they, no doubt, belong. Much like reincarnation, their bodies are beyond help, but there is yet a soul in each of them that could one day be worthy of resurrection.

At present I am working on a "new" novel -- something which has been percolating in there for a long time -- years. I have a few "chapters" written in a solid first draft, and a lot of "scenes," scenarios, and little bits.

See, I'm not one of those organized people who start at page one and know exactly what is going to happen. My process is more organic. I usually start with an open concept, a feeling almost, although it can evolve into something totally different. Especially characters. Because, as many writers will tell you, you don't create a character. A character emerges fully formed. Just like meeting a stranger, sometimes you feel you "know" this person immediately, and other times you know them for a long time and suddenly learn something shocking. But I find my plot and theme and anything else related to the work -- I don't like using these terms -- they are so rigid -- evolve as well.

So I will go back now and finish the statement I started with: When I wrote my first novel what really interested me was the process. Not as in write so many words a day, commit to writing for ten minutes, or start with an outline -- no, none of that. I am talking about the process of my own mind. How things bubble away on the back burner and come to the surface as if out of nowhere. Ideas that, when you read them later, are so good you cannot believe you wrote them. Ideas that come up like molten lava and it's all you can do to keep out of its way and let it flow.

Since then, I've started collecting notes for what I thought might one day become a book for writers. Because most of what I've read in that vein falls into one of two categories. Either is it about the Rules of Writing: Plot, Theme, Character, yada, yada, yada ... like we learned in school. (Am I dating myself? Do they even teach grammar in school anymore, let alone composition? You might as well know upfront -- chronologically I am 58 -- going on 25.) Or else it's someone's personal journey into the world of writing. There is merit in both of these approaches, certainly. But I felt that by paying attention to process, I had something else to offer, not the least of which is to give permission NOT to follow rules.

With this current novel I am doing something new. I have been keeping a dairy (sic) for a few months to keep track of my process with this project. And then last night, sitting in the theatre at Julie and Julia, I thought. Duh! Join the new millennium! Don't keep a diary, Dana, write a blog.

So here we are: Entry number 1.

Already this little intro contains a number of points that I can expand upon. Because while I hope to use the current novel as a springboard, I can already see that there is a part of me dying to share my thoughts on process in general. And I do intend to share some of my writing.

Two true confessions: 1) Dana is not my real name. Chalk that one up to life lessons. And 2) I am the world's second worst procrastinator. So don't look for daily entries.

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