This weekend for Jami Attenberg’s #mini1000 I set aside both mornings to work on my shiny new novel, which I’ve had to abandon for the last few months to take care of deadlines. Because the words have felt bottled up for so long, I was really looking forward to letting them fly, imagining at least a couple of hours of uninterrupted writing time. But of course, reality set in immediately.
I needed a while to read through my notes, remember what I’d been thinking about this book, what I’d already written and where I’d been dreaming it could go. Most of what I have so far is written by hand in my notebook, among notes and questions I’ve written for myself.
As I read through it, I was excited to type it up and begin to see it as a single, uninterrupted document, and then watch it take off from there. Then I hit a major technical difficulty with Scrivener and spent half my precious writing time trouble shooting instead.
But! The good news is that this hadn’t been wasted time. My brain had been activated. I was thinking about my characters, about how the story might play out differently than I’d thought before, and how to make exciting use of the things I’d already established.
One of my favorite all-time pieces of writing advice came from Leslie Daniels, author of the novel Cleaning Nabokov’s House. After reading the first few chapters of my then novel-in-progress, Leslie said, “You have all the pieces on the board. Now make them play together.” In other words, to build a satisfying narrative, everything and everyone in the story should have some impact on another character or part of their arc.
This morning, as I lay in bed after my alarm went off, my mind was still working on my novel, thinking about the pieces I’d put on the board and how they can affect one another even more. It’s my first multi-POV story, written in first person, and I realized how many questions I still have to answer: Whom or what are my characters addressing? How will their stories intertwine in more meaningful ways? How might the very telling of their stories affect one another?
On the surface, it’s such a simple piece of advice. But it’s been propelling me to think more deeply and opening up new ideas I can’t wait to explore.
So once again I’ve been reminded that writing doesn’t always look like putting words on paper or on screen. Sometimes it’s just waking back up to a project, spending time with it, moving words around and daydreaming for a while, working on the voice of a character, playing with your pieces and watching the game take shape.
Have fun playing this week! I look forward to next time.
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Leslie Daniels is a wise one!