For decades I worked — very sporadically — on that ‘first novel’. Then, after the transcontinental move followed by the unpacking of all the high priority stuff, I found the battered cardboard filing box. All my writings were in there. It held the typed (yes, typed) hard copy manuscript and about a dozen spiral bound notebooks filled with wildly rambling thoughts and story ideas —
— a whole universe manifested on paper, imprisoned by dented walls of stained cellulose and kept from seeing the light of day for years.
It was like stumbling over a time capsule.
Just seeing it — knowing what was in that box — took me back to our honeymoon in Sausalito: ‘when and where’ the inspiration for my story’s universe struck me.
I’ll admit to some trepidation as I opened that box — it was my own version of Pandora’s box. But it was a box that I had filled. I knelt, lifted the lid and set it aside, reached in, and pulled out the manila folders cradling that typed manuscript.
The pages of thin typing bond were far from pristine. They were littered with frenetically scrawled notes, reminders to myself, demanding question marks and passionate exclamation points, whole blocks of text I’d slashed through.
Frankly, I didn’t remember them looking so chaotic. In self-defense, though, it was a first draft.
After a cold re-reading, I was relieved — almost smiling, actually. The characters, settings, concepts and premise still held their collective lustre and allure. But the plot itself was weak, formulaic. I set that plot aside to began anew.
Way back when I first began ‘seriously’ working on this story I was using a Brother electric typewriter — keys clacking, coffee rings, paper cuts — to transcribe the hundreds of pages, entire scenes and character biographies, all written in long hand years ago.
Decades later in this new setting of the Pacific Northwest I resumed writing, this time on used PC laptops — first an IBM, then an HP — using Microsoft Word. Because of my writing style and the way my brain is hardwired, MS Word was causing me endless headaches and frustration.
Refusing to let MS Word restrict me or disrupt the flow of words, I searched online for writing software that wouldn’t slow me down whenever my thoughts leap to an unrelated track in another chapter, or one character or another would spontaneously give dictation.
I discovered Scrivener, exactly the writing tool I needed. But Scrivener works with Mac OS X only. There I was stuck using a second-hand, reconditioned PC laptop whose aged battery was quickly losing its ability to hold a charge.
Then I got my first exhilarating taste of external validation for my writing. Ben surprised me with a new MacBook Leopard of my very own. We then downloaded Scrivener’s free trial version for me to test drive — after just fifteen minutes of experimenting, the full version was paid for and running.
I spent the next several days transcribing everything to brand new files on Scrivener, reacquainting myself with my characters and creating sane and workable hierarchies for the chapters. The training wheels were off, and so was I. Those three things — MacBook, Scrivener, my lover’s faith in my writing — had given me wings. The story and I flew.
Originally the story was going to be a single, large, volume. But as I found my stride it really grew — it was soon in danger of becoming one of those door-stop manuscripts.
Then came the cellular mitosis, and it split itself into a trilogy. However, being organic now, it had to split again — it could no longer be told in only three books. It became a quintet.
The story continued to grow fractally. For a long time I was powerless to stop it.
Ironically, I’ve become a slave to the outline. Not to any particular outline, but to the discipline of the outline. It’s the only way I’ve able to harness this beast. It now breathes on its own. New characters coalesce from the haze of morning wakenings, imperiously waving their stories in my face.
The story arc was — briefly — five books in sequential, chronological order. But the first book contained a prologue spanning forty years. Forty years of significant information that couldn’t be forced into the ‘present day’ with any grace. I lopped it off. That cutting propagated and took root, then bloomed into a prequel — or more appropriately for the spirit of this story, a prelude.
And there are other stories, each capable of standing alone, that are set before / after / during this arc’s time-line — in the same universe, with some of these same characters. Storylines now intersect. Though secondary or tertiary, these characters are demanding I tell their stories, too.
Make that eight books.
Being an ENTP, I don’t think linearly. Instead of being like a pinball machine with a single steel thought rebounding off the pins, I’m more like a pachinko machine with dozens slamming into each other and ricocheting. This odd little trait comes in handy, since I’m working on all eight books simultaneously to prevent continuity errors. This odd little trait is what makes Scrivener vital to my writing efforts. I just hope I can keep the character arcs faithful.
Ben is my (long suffering) test reader for dialogue, narrative prose and clarity — but he constantly has to ask which volume I’m asking him to read from at any given moment. Poor man. It really is asking a lot of anyone, as I keep forgetting that most other folks are linear thinkers.
In all candor, my greatest obstacle in completing this ‘first novel’ is my addiction to tangent chasing. I tend to get lost in the throes of research. It’s so hard, sometimes, to not follow that white rabbit deeper and deeper into his warrens.
That’s when my characters come to my rescue. With a loud and collective “Ahem!”, they remind my of my duties to them and I’m soon back on track.
The above is the gist of an excerpt (newly edited, hopefully improved) from something I had posted on another blog a couple of years ago, with some follow-up thoughts on the writing process.