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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Write-o-phobia. There's probably a proper Greek name for the disorder, but this makes it nice and clear: fear of writing.

How does it happen? How do I get derailed from the march of progress, and then find that I can't get back at it? I'm not sure. You get out of the flow of writing each day, and then it seems awkward, even presumptuous, to try to get back into it. It's sort of like trying to reboard a moving train or a revolving merry-go-round: you stand poised, wanting to get on, letting the opportunities zip by, but worried about goofing up and getting flung away. You want to find the right rhythm and just hop aboard.

So I remain in the swamp of chapter 30, going through my research material, collating ever more of it, and asking questions. I've been here for over a month, and start to worry whether I'll ever get out. Aren't I just being too fussy? Just sit down and write, damn it!

Ah, but that's not my way. The pump has to be primed. There's no use in writing anything until you know what you're talking about. When a writer fully does his or her homework, the writing is rich and informative. We've all read material that's mainly fluff and flab, composed of wordy generalities and familiar images. I can't stand that, and I don't want to be the author of it.

I have found that there is no substitute for simply going through my research material, looking for promising facts. These facts--events of the time of my story, or cultural practices--can trigger ideas. They can feel potentially relevant. If so, I toy with them: I try to relate them to my story. How can this fact affect my story? It's sort of like trying jigsaw-puzzle pieces. "I think that's a piece of sky..."

But it's not so well defined as a jigsaw puzzle. There's no way of knowing whether I'm moving in a fruitful or relevant direction, except by the gut feeling I have. When will the "story" feeling click in? When will I get that feeling of excitement, of wind filling my sails? My Notes document now runs to 45 pages--how much is enough?

I'm the creator. I'm supposed to be the God of this project. How did it become the boss of me?

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