Thursday, February 11, 2021

Thou Shalt Dwell

I enjoyed reading Thomas Kies’s post Thou Shalt Hoard Notebooks, partly because I love Stephen King (I’m a Mainer, after all), and partly because Tom got me thinking.

Tom offers Stephen King’s rules of writing, one of which is to take a long break after you’ve finished the draft of a novel and return to it with fresh eyes. This got me thinking about a conversation I had recently with a writer-friend who talked about hitting roadblocks mid-novel and pressing pausing.

She said she gives herself two weeks away from the novel and writes something entirely new, a short story. Once the story is finished, after a couple weeks, she goes back to the book, reads it from the start to the problem area, and usually comes up with a fix. When she leaves the novel, the new project becomes her focus. She doesn’t dwell.

I like to dwell. I’m a good dweller. (Did I just write that sentence?) I think dwelling is productive. My daughter, when she was about 10, came into the office one day and said, “Mom says you’re in here writing. Everytime I come in here, you’re just staring at the wall.”

That’s me writing. I’m a dweller.

Elmore Leonard said somewhere that he wrote the first hundred pages and then figured out where the book was going. I agree, which is probable why I love writing the first hundred pages so much. The path into the forest is never scary. It’s only after you’ve been in there a while and realize you’re lost that fear kicks in.

I’m about 27,000 words into my latest project. I’ve taken breaks to write two academic pieces (both sold, which is nice) and make an hour-long conference presentation for a pedagogy in a virtual setting, which took three weeks to prepare. And I’ve dwelled about the book and where it’s headed. A lot.

Dwelling amounts to note-taking and outlining. Nothing too formal. Asking lots of questions about motivations and why characters are doing what they’re doing and acting the way they’re acting. Plotting out the next five or six scenes.

Dwelling isn’t easy. But it can be useful.

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