Drafting a novel can be thrilling, frustrating, enlightening, fun, and, as my former writing teacher Ron Hansen has said, “a ramshackle process.” From developing the plot to choosing character names, it’s always an adventure. As a few other writers discuss:
Rebecca Makkai describes what happened when a man discovered he had the same name as a character in one of her short stories: When Characters Attack.
In a story, I’d tone down the following for believability; but what follows is the verbatim email: “i thoought when you write a novel all people whom have that name should be notified before writing a novel for the people won;t sue you for infringe ments on said name. and also royalties there are three of us left with the name peter t______.”
Rose Tremain explains how she was inspired to become a writer: New-Mown Hay is the Best.
One evening, lagging behind the other tennis players, with a June sun beginning to go down, I stopped still on the path, inhaling something new and impossibly seductive in the air. During my two-hour game of tennis, the hayfield had been cut. I experienced the scent of the new-mown hay as something so perfect, so life-affirming, that the idea of its inevitable transience (it was, after all, only the frail and final outbreath of a fallen crop) felt crushing. I stood very still and wondered if there existed, in me, any magic by which I could hold onto it for as long as I remained alive. And it was in that moment that the idea of becoming a writer took shape in my mind. I couldn’t capture the smell; what I could capture was the power of my experience of the smell in words.
When the scent of new-mown hay comes to me now, I see how my fear of the ephemeral lessened in an instant. Writers give ephemeral things multiple existences: they understand how a single childhood experience may one day inform countless different stories. And so I saw the direction of my life set out before me across the field.
And Ramona Ausabel is among several novelists who explain how they approach first drafts:
For me, the first draft is really just a big mud-rolling, dust-kicking, mess-making time in which my only job is to find the story’s heartbeat. I allow myself to invent characters without warning, drop them if they prove to be uninteresting, change the setting in the middle, experiment with point of view, etc. I figure that the body will grow up around the heart, that it’s always possible to bring all the various elements up and down, sculpt and polish, as long as I’ve got something that matters to me. The second draft (and the 3rd through 20th, Lord help me) involves getting out the tool belt and thinking like a carpenter. But the first draft is all dirt and water and seeds and, hopefully, a little magic.
Of course, this method means that my first draft is almost unreadable. Maybe someday I’ll invent a way of making a slightly cleaner mess, but until then, I try to enjoy the muck.
Words to live by.