I’ve been making steady progress on the second book in the Swan Harp trilogy. It’s going much more slowly than the first one, in large part because I thought about the first story, in various forms, for nearly twenty years before I actually started writing it. I’ve only thought about this story for perhaps a year.
While storytelling, or any art, comes down to inspiration plus perspiration, it also has to include the element of time. Some ideas spring full-blown from the aether, and some need a while to develop. I’m in a “discovery draft” right now, where I’m not sure what my characters are going to do, or what will happen when they do it. I’m finding it out as I go along, right along with them. Apparently this is the way Stephen King writes most of the time. Even Margaret Atwood says she doesn’t always know how a story is going to end when she begins writing it. I’m in good company.
I have an idea of the story arc, but I know that it’s a flexible thing, and may whip off in another direction. After all, when I started writing on the Swan Harp in the car, some of my (I thought) stable characters and plotlines came unhinged and went off in ways I hadn’t planned or intended. For the moment I am trying to be content with that lack of control and foreknowledge. It’s not an easy lesson for me. I’m not good with indecision.
I’ve written things that I’m not sure are going to be in the final draft. I’ve left them for now, first because I’m in the “spit it out” phase of the writing – “fix it later” comes, well, later. Second, even if I don’t see what purpose they serve now, those elements may work in somehow I hadn’t thought of in something I’ve yet to write.
I try to keep in mind something my mother used to say. “Never look at a dress when it’s half-done,” she would tell me. I think it’s probably pretty good advice for any piece of work. When it’s half-done, it’s still held together with pins, and maybe the facings aren’t in, and there are raw edges and loose threads everywhere. Besides, you’re putting it together inside-out, right? That’s not how it’s going to look when it’s actually being worn.
Some days it’s hard to start writing. I’m finding this story far more difficult, both because of my own unfamiliarity with it, and because some of the things happening in it are difficult for the characters to live through, and for me to write. I sometimes wonder if I can do this. I sometimes want to take a day off, or quit altogether. I do occasionally take a day off, but I know I won’t quit, not for a mountain of chocolate delivered by a naked man.
So I plug along, even when it feels like plugging. The story is coming, after all, three hundred, four hundred or five hundred words at a time.