Jack Kerouac famously stuck hundreds of sheets of paper to make one long roll so that he could write On The Road all in one go. This is not an approach that would have worked for me.
As I’ve remarked before, I’ve never been one to start at the beginning of a story, and go on until I get to the end, and then stop. And it seems that over the last year I’ve become even less inclined to do that. At the moment I have six documents open:
- an experimental anthology that may or may not be going somewhere (4,532 words since summer 2019)
- the Ruritanian thing (30,642 words since summer 2018)
- the historical novel (13,659 words since this February)
- a how-to-write-your-book-while-holding-down-a-job workbook (7,886 words since summer 2020)
- and two short stories (6,851 words and 631 words respectively)
Not to mention, of course, this post.
My current approach is, every day except Sundays, to open up everything I’m working on and add a sentence to each of them. Depending on where we are in the month and how knackered I am, I might then keep going on whichever one or ones of them take my fancy.
Sometimes I manage whole paragraphs; very rarely, whole scenes. Sometimes I come back from a walk with the next scene in my head. Sometimes I write it. More often it was my morning walk and I have to do my day job, and so I write myself a note at the breakfast table:
Cherry Ripe – the garden at the Beaumont house – resolves the Parry question
crisis: factory brawl, domestic brawl
Ben & Mack could go to Paris?
Which gives me something to start from later in the day.
(Please do not suggest that I get up earlier. Getting up earlier does not work for me.)
I do not always add complete sentences. I have a feeling that I used to add complete sentences, but lately I’ve found it easier just to write the words that are in my head and come back to the other ones later.
Blame pandemic brain, or else the fact that I’m doing all my writing on the laptop at the moment and can get away with this sort of approach. Either way, it results in a lot of my writing looking something like this:
Did I feel weird about sleeping in Amelia’s pyjamas in Amelia’s bed? Not remotely. I was far too tired to have scruples about something like that. I slipped between those smooth, white, hotel sheets,
It would have been nice if it had been a dreamless, untroubled, refreshing sleep. I thought I deserved some peace and quiet. I didn’t get it.
All except the alarm, which turned out to be the phone. Automatically, I reached for the receiver.
There’s a lot that isn’t there yet, and what is there isn’t exactly inspired. It leaves me a lot to sort out later, of course. But, weirdly enough, that turns out to be an advantage. When I open up my six (or however many) documents it’s quite handy to find a pair of square brackets that I can fill in, or half a sentence that I suddenly know how finish off. And sometimes I keep on going.
It probably isn’t the most efficient way to write a novel. (Or, in this case, two novels, an anthology, two short stories, a workbook, and a blog post.) I’ve no idea when or if I’m going to finish any of them (except the blog post). But at the moment it seems to be the only way that I’m writing anything at all. And it adds up. And it keeps the pilot light on. So let’s go with it.