November 12, 2003

driving the novel

Today I hit the magic 250 page mark (well, 253 pages) as well as the equally magic 50K word count, the one NaNoWriMo touts as a complete novel (technically, I知 at 51,225 words). I知 past the halfway point. This book-beast is real. And it looks like I値l actually finish it, too (my goal is 400 pages/80K words or so). Not that I had any doubts, but, well, I致e had doubts. Like weight loss, it痴 a huge undertaking demanding discipline and perseverance, with lows that will kick your butt as well as giddy, 的 did it! I知 doing it! This is so cool! highs.

Dan said today he doesn稚 know how I write past the end of each chapter; he knows I don稚 have the kind of detailed scene-by-scene outline I use in screenplays, so how do I know what to write next? I知 winging it much more than I ever have before, and this is a big pile of pages to wing. I told him that I know where I知 going to end up and some bits of story along the way, so I just have to estimate how far along I need to be next and then I can figure out a way to write to there, allowing for serendipity and inspiration and an occasional writerly trance along the way.

Vague, huh? Dan came up with a metaphor which I think explains it better.

Let痴 say you want to drive from Los Angeles to New York. You致e got a clear goal and you even know roughly what you値l see along the way. Here are deserts, bring water. There痴 a big mountain range over there, it値l probably be cold. Along this area, there are one hell of a lot of wheat and corn fields, better figure out a way to make that part interesting so you don稚 drive off the road, asleep at the wheel. There are great huge ocean-like lakes somewhere in the eastern edge of middle part, but you have to go out of your way for them, is the car in good enough shape to handle the detour?

You know all this, the general terrain with implicit questions to inform your decisions. And you致e got a compass guiding you from southwest to northeast. But no map, so you don稚 know the exact route. That part you figure out as you go. You ask people in gas stations and diners, you plan a little way ahead (picking up a map of, say, Utah when you hit the state border), and you go by gut.

That痴 what writing this novel is like.

Posted by Tamar at November 12, 2003 08:52 PM

and I thought you were sharing a metaphor with Annie Dillard, but I was wrong: it was E.L. Doctorow who said:

"Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." And this from a man whose works are both epic and exquisitely plotted. (Personally, I like outlines, but only after the first 100-150 pages have poured out....)

When I went looking for the quote to run by you, I found it on a sweet website of writerly advice:

Posted by: Chris L. at November 16, 2003 09:42 AM