I’m writing a novel. It’s my first attempt. Ok, so not my first attempt but my longest attempt – I’m up to page 136. I re-read (I know I shouldn’t do that) and I get very scared. Why?
I have no freaking idea what I’m doing.
This particular story has been in my head for a number of years. It has been written down in various forms, going in various directions and none of them got me beyond page 30 or so. The main characters I can see quite clearly in my head. I have a sense for their personalities, their likes and dislikes…and yet, I can’t seem to get their full selves onto the page.
Imagine, if you will, two three year olds, with sticky jammy fingers, playing with popsicle sticks. They are plain, unclothed little sticks although someone might’ve (a busy, harried Mommy perhaps) drawn on rudimentary faces. The little children make the sticks hop around on a table top, playing a game. That’s what my characters are like right now, to me: little naked popsicle sticks. They have no depth, no layers, no personalities…they go through whatever motions I make them go through and then…nothing.
I try to take deep breaths and remember the words of Natalie Goldberg in her classic book, “Writing Down the Bones.” Just write. Just get the story down. Anne Lamott, same advice: write it. It will be a shitty first draft. It might be (and I’m paraphrasing here) the worst assemblage of words ever known to mankind. At first.
Get the story down. Lay the bones on the ground in some semblance of order and then go back and build on those bones. When I’m not panic-stricken and hyperventilating, I like to imagine the wooden bones of an old sailing ship – the spine, the ribs, the acres and acres of raw timber nailed together that formed the skeleton. After that is complete, the rest of it can be added on. I wonder if shipwrights ever looked at these “bones” and wondered if the damn thing would ever float?
Of course, as I sit here in a cold sweat, I wonder if I’m doing it all wrong. What if it ends up being like one of those IKEA pieces that you have to lay out on the floor, you screw it all together and realize it’s all backwards and upside down? Back to the boat analogy, what if I’ve put the mast where the keel is meant to be? I worry about painting my characters into corners that they can’t get out of and thus, I think I let them drift, wandering from scene to scene with no purpose in life.
This is turning into a full-fledged panic attack. I need to stop. I’ve gone beyond the point where I’m willing to listen to my own good advice! Time to put my tools away and take a break, otherwise the ship will be sunk before its even been on its maiden voyage.