Other writers approached me during some holiday parties with simple questions: how do you od it? How do you keep track of what's going on?
Middle-aged, one woman had just completed her MFA and wanted to write a novel but found keeping track of all the details difficult. Another was a well established non-fiction author who had written a long short story that she thought she wanted to make into a novel. Both are very smart people and had read books, and attended novel writing seminars and workshops. Both were intimidated by what they grasped was needed to write a novel and were interested in just hearing what I did.
I've decided my method is an organic, immersive, keep your fingers crossed, trust yourself and write like crazy approach. As I thought about it and answered their questions, I realized it was more like a study course.
I study my novel and become an expert on it. I know it might sound crazy to others but that's basically how it is. It's just like taking a class in a college course for your major, except I am the teacher, student and class. I continually go back to read and review what I've written to ensure I haven't made a major, inadvertent change and all the details are aligned. I make notes as reminders about what's important, and write summaries about what's happened and what's planned, and review all those previously written notes.
Of course, I write from POV. I have multiple POVs. They're threads being written in parallel, sometimes simultaneously. After I've written the latest ends of the threads, I insert them into where I believe they fit, according to the organic shape of the entire story being told. Sometimes - no, often - that shape changes as I become more knowledgeable about what I've written. I encourage myself to think creatively about what's happened and what can happen next. I think 'the characters' help that process because I sit down and try to think like them, about who they are and their motivations, and what they're trying to gain or change or understand, and why they're trying to do that.
As I am, my characters are flawed as observers and masters of themselves. They don't exist in vacuums of reality, though, and I depend on that as well. In this way, I remember not just novels and stories I've read, but how often a work or personal situation shifted and squirmed under scrutiny as people changed their narrative. People become story tellers when relating their side of a tale. The more they tell the story, the more they refine it. Some refine it because they see what's working by the feedback they receive and how it makes them or others feel and advance their agendas. Others refine it by accident, mixing up times, places, people and stories.
Writing a novel is work. It requires focus, time and discipline, and I attempt to write everyday as much for continuity's sake and my sanity as much as anything else. Ninety percent of those days or more, I enjoy the work. Those other days, I don't enjoy it. Sometimes that's because something I wrote didn't go as I planned or I exposed a story flaw that will need to be fixed. Other times, I've become disheartened by what I've read and decide that it doesn't work, and that depresses me. Once in a while, it's because I've read someone whose work was so shatterlingly beautiful that I'm overcome by awe by what they achieved and jealous of their skills.
I told the others that the most important thing I've learned is to write for myself, write myself to satisfy myself as writer, reader, story-teller and imagineer. That's important because it helps me ignore the doubtful, worrisome critic in me insisting nobody will like this or that it's not great literature. Number one, I know I like it. I know my tastes are not like others and thank God, for wouldn't render us a tedious group? Thank God there are others with more intellect and better taste than me, more insightful readers, more profound writers so that I can keep growing as a reader, writer and person.
My two friends thanked me for my thoughts. I don't know how helpful it was. Writing as a personal a journey as sex, reading, eating, sleeping. We're all individuals and there's no clear, magic answer for our human activities. You decide you want it and you try. You learn from the experience. Sometimes you recognize that what once worked may no longer work for you, and what works for you fails for others.
We're individuals and humans, even as writers.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com