I’m at the beginning of a new book. This is probably my favorite part of writing—every possibility exists. There is a freshness to the material, a scent of dew and dawn filling my work hours. There is always the chance that this time I will have matured enough, learned enough, that I will be able to draw the material from the Land of Book Children with such care and expertise that it will be perfect.
That never happens, of course. I love many of the books that have flowed through me, and feel a mother’s pride over every single of one of them. But never once has one emerged on the page just as it exists on the other side of the veil. I am only human, not an angel or a goddess. I show up and do the best I can.
But right now, I haven’t yet marred this new book. It’s still wet behind the ears, delicate and full of potential. This stage of development is what makes non-writers think they could write books—they have a great idea, they have ideas for structure and originality, and it’s so much fun to think about the book project that a person can spend endless hours daydreaming about it. It’s exciting to imagine turning points, discover the details of characters. I love it when the girls in the basement send up a picture of something I know but would never have thought to use this way, like the gorgeous, solid houses built of red sandstone blocks in Pueblo. There is a whole neighborhood with street after street of mansions built of this lovely material. The girls said, “Hey, what about this?” and I realized it works perfectly. The house, the neighborhood.
There are rituals for this process. I like to start collecting a soundtrack. The cornerstone piece for this soundtrack is Glitter in the Air, by Pink, because there is one line that captured me completely, and as sometimes will happen, a whole book reeled out from that starting point. (No, I will not tell you which line it is, but maybe someday, I’ll bring this up again and someone will guess.) I suspect there is some Adam Hurst again because I’m so crazy for cello right now and I like listening to his slow, melancholy strings while I write. Maybe some Sarah McLachlan
I don’t have page counts to meet each day, but instead have time requirements. I have to be at the computer by 9, after a walk with the dog, and it is weirdly important not to get online or otherwise let the world in at this stage of development. I need to be able to hear the soft voices of the novel. The world is like static, interfering with my ability to tune in.
I like to write a dialogue between me and the main character. It might sound silly, or a trick, and it is, in a way, but it also works. I say hello, and I am glad to be working with you on this. Let’s talk. Tell me about……
And I give the character a chance to respond. This is a surprisingly long standing ritual. I started it years and years ago, and it nearly always gets my imagination moving.
I dream and play. I write possible ideas for direction, play with character arcs. To really start writing, I need a pretty clear idea of the shape of a novel, the basic themes and ideas I’m working with. Most of what I will do in the first 100 pages will be more like building a skeleton than actual writing—I’m capturing motives and moods, planting stakes for support. It’s all very plain and messy, with the odd flash of beauty.
It’s a delight to be in this stage. Before anyone sees it, before things settle into solidity.
If you are a writer, do you like this stage, too? If you are a reader, is there some part of your life that mirrors this sense of fresh starts?