I’m in the middle of the 100 Day Project, which I decided for me was going to be 100 days of Creating. So far it’s been a surprising two weeks of almost constant writing.
It’s weird, I find, to say I’m nearing 20,000 words on a novel I can’t publish. Even weirder to say that it feels like a story I can’t put down, even when I’m the one writing it. I’ve talked before about how I fell into this fanfic novel almost by accident. I say “almost” because I’m starting to realize it was inevitable.
Writing to me is all about making connections. Taking thoughts and stringing them together along a theme until they make a cohesive kind of sense. I’ve seen this is true for fiction and non-fiction and just about every kind of writing out there.
The famous quote goes: “Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” Writing is all about figuring out what those pieces are and what order they need to go in. I say “need” because more often than not it rises out of the material itself. The writing tells you, in some way, how it wants to be written.
That’s the mystery of it all, and why I think I keep being surprised by the process. Writing is all about making connections, but I’ve seen so many times over the years that the connections aren’t always mine.
The image I think that some people have for writing fiction is that you start somewhere, maybe an idea or an image, a scene or a character, and then you begin making stuff up. Where does the story take place? When? What does the main character do for a living? What is the story about? What’s the lesson? What genre is it?
On and on until you have something resembling a story. And while it does sometimes look like that, more often than not the questions answer themselves. What I mean by that is that a character’s job or personality, for instance, isn’t an arbitrary decision. It’s often informed by the character themselves. And that extends to a lot of the story. The moral of the story is often informed by the story itself.
I’ve always struggled to properly explain it, mostly because it’s different for every story, but there are times when it really feels like I’m not the one writing the story.
Writing, especially fiction, has always felt more like uncovering than making it up as I go. Sure, I’ll have an idea for the character or the setting, maybe even a rough idea of the kind of deeper concepts I want to talk about. But when I actually get into the story, I find a lot of my ideas changing based on the story that I’m writing. Maybe that sounds strange. After all, I am the one writing it. But that’s what I mean. It doesn’t feel that way all the time.
I’ve talked about signs, how they tend to appear only after I’ve made a decision. It’s the same with stories, only ten times more. After I’ve started a story, even if I’m not sure about every piece, sooner or later, I’ll find that thing that tells me this story is going to work. More often than not, I’ll go in with a good idea only to figure out, in the process of writing, what the story is actually about.
For the novel I wrote last year, whose sequel I’m writing now, I made a decision about my main character early on, in the brainstorming stage. It was actually before I ever thought about actually writing the story. It was an important bit for the character, a part of her personality that set her apart from the other characters and from any lead character I’ve written before, but something that, at least at the beginning of the story, didn’t have a real impact on the plot. It was just an interesting part of her character, something that felt like needed to be a part of her, but that was it.
Then, when I was actually writing the novel, a whirlwind experience in and of itself, I got to the end and realized something. That piece of her character bio that I had chosen for seemingly arbitrary reasons made the ending of my book. Literally. As in, I wouldn’t have had an ending without it. It’s hard to explain, because if you read the book and made the connection you could easily think that I wrote her that way in order to have that ending. But it’s not that at all. I made a decision, weeks before, on a character in a story I had no intention of writing because it was a crazy idea. Then I actually wrote it and that bit ended up being the most amazing, surprising, important part of the story.
And that wasn’t the first time it’s happened to me. It’s become so common, in fact, that I don’t doubt it anymore. When it shows up, I know I’m on the right track. When it feels like I’m not the one writing, I know the writing is good.
Inspiration always shows up. I’ve learned that. But I’m always surprised when it does. And that’s why I keep doing it. Why I sit down to write a novel every November, even though I’m always afraid I won’t be able to do it. Why I write stories I could never publish. And then write their sequels. Why I’m always jotting down ideas for equally crazy stories.
Because the process always works, and it never fails to amaze me when it does.