For a while now, I have been writing bits of scenes, dialogues, and plot ideas for a new novel on scraps of paper. The book’s basic premise was conceived almost two years ago, but the intervening time was devoted to rewriting, finalizing, and preparing for the release of Just the Facts, my novel recently published by She Writes Press.
My new novel will be very different in themes and construct. This appeals to me because, after spending years on a book, I am primed to try different things. At this moment, I envision the story being told from multiple points of views, and possibly going backwards in time. Most importantly, I am finally ready to get to work in earnest, which optimally for me means writing every morning of every weekday.
Even though my pub date was September 8th and I received the newly minted book a few weeks earlier, I resisted beginning a new project, really giving myself to it body and soul, because I had numerous readings and book club appearances scheduled for Just the Facts this fall. Funny as it may sound, I didn’t feel I could keep two books in my head at once.
“I want to stay articulate on Just the Facts and its themes, and I’m getting older now, you know,” I explained to my husband.
“That’s silly,” he said. “You know that novel inside out.”
But, still, I hesitated. I puttered a lot, an activity I find quite productive because it generates thoughts. A character in Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety puts it well: “Puttering can be a comfort. It goes with rumination…” While I puttered, and wandered around, ideas for the new book would come to me, and I would scribble them down on slips of paper. New themes expanded in my mind, and I made notes on characters and situations. Things were developing.
However, puttering and note-taking – just like having to organize everything in your study or needing to wait until the new year begins before embarking on a task – can be a huge distraction. I’ve been staring and staring at the mounds of notes, piled high on the extra desk in the tiny study off my bedroom. Sometimes they give me comfort; at others, they make me nervous. Each note says “Attic” at the top because the story begins in a dusty attic in an old house, filled with boxes of a woman writer’s essays, journals, letters – and slips of inspiration. Ah, I realize: I am acting out the woman’s plight! As in my other books, her roots are my roots!
Happily, there has suddenly been a shift in my thinking and attitude. This week, I put all the little papers in a storage container, labeling the lid “Monster in a Box.” That’s an homage to Spalding Gray’s monologue of the same name in which he spoke about all the ideas he had collected for his first novel before he finally wrote the darn thing.
Today, finally for me, I am seated at my favorite Dunkin Donuts in Northern New Jersey. The tables here are lined up single file, which means no one can sit right next to me – a good thing. A bench runs along the windows by the tables, like an old-fashioned return table in an office on which I can spread my notebooks and papers.
I can’t speak for Spalding Gray, but I know I will never look at a lot of those slips of papers related to my new book. I am confident that the process of recording them has embedded these ideas and inspirations in my brain. I need to trust that the most important thoughts will surface once I’m underway if they’re meant to. Indeed, I know that the big ideas, the best bits, have been scribbled over and over!
Admittedly, I do have a separate, smallish pile with “Important” written at the top of each sheet, and these I will no doubt consult at some point. But I have to trust the process. I can’t write by trying to fit in all my previous thoughts or the story will be stilted, like a patchwork quilt instead of a flowing river. It’s enough to know the thoughts are there and plentiful, and that there will be others!
Luckily for me, as long as I can get myself to sit down, words follow. Today, on a Friday, I finished this essay, and on Monday, I will write page 1. It is highly unlikely that this page 1 will be the same as the one that appears in the final manuscript, but it will serve as my way in. It will more than do for the present.