Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Incipience

There's a small part of me (very small, mind you) that can't stand the holiday season, because its particular rhythms pretty much enforce the accomplishment of nothing. Between now and January 5, when the kids return to school, I will be doing various advanced forms of nothing--reading, taking photos, playing some guitar, staring at the internet. But the stealth project of the coming weeks is the mental preparation for the novel that damned if I'm not going to start writing on the 5th.

So far I'm a little behind, in that I haven't given the thing a moment's thought. Well, that's not really true, I've been thinking about it for the better part of a year--but the particulars of how I'm going to write it, what's going to happen in it, its opening lines, what the voice is going to be like: all of that remains shrouded in mystery. There was a time when this would have panicked me--I used to be a big, big outliner. But over the years I've come to admit to myself how little I actually use the outlines, and how much of what's good in the book ends up being stuff I had no idea I was going to do.

So why not have no idea about the whole thing, right? Then it will all be good! Um, no, not really. But it won't be any worse than the outlined first drafts were.

What I have for this book are characters. I've got them all pretty much down in my head. I don't know a great deal about them, per se, but I know what they're like. I also know how they're going to come together, and that's what I be writing about when I start writing.

I have to admit, I quite like this feeling of incipience--the feeling that soon I'm going to try to make something. I might even like it more than the actual trying to make something, in fact. And the feeling is all wrapped up in the notion that 2009 is going to be a very different year for a lot of people--that it will be a year of sitting back, clearing our heads, and figuring out precisely what is really important to us and how to hold on it. Some people will not be able to hold on, and it makes me sad to think of it. But for those of us whose savings aren't wiped out, and who manage to keep our jobs, it could be a very good year, the kind that forces us to simplify, organize, and remember what makes our lives worth living. For me, it's my family, of course, and music and art and books, both reading them and, fingers crossed, writing them.

10 comments:

5 Red Pandas said...

I understand what you mean about the anticipation. It just happens that I've been waiting for exactly this window of time to have the chance to start some new writing, and revise old writing. 3:07pm couldn't come fast enough for me yesterday.

I think you're pretty spot on about 2009. Now that I'll have some extra time that I didn't have this past semester, I will really concentrate on what's important to me and try to hold on to what I already have.

rmellis said...

January is my favorite month. Finally I have the strength to admit it. It is like cool fresh sheets, or a piece of blank paper rolled into a typewriter.

Matt said...

I've never been much of hard-line "outliner" (outsider? outlander?). There are usually two or three times where I'll have a state-of-the-nation w/ a book and proceed to write down what I feel are the Pressing Questions...

...and everything I write in said SotN ends up looking oh so very trivial/rhetorical/obvious/useless. And yet, I contend that sometimes it's necessary to do this - to write down the bleedingly obvious - if only for the objective me to have a look at it and say: "No...no, that's not what I'm curious about at all. I'm not interested in those questions in the least.".

It's from that point where I actually start to get closer to what ends up being the *real* questions about the book. So, while outlines may not directly yield much worth (depending upon the writer), they can indirectly stir up the right elements needed to extract the real concerns.

(Happy Holidays)

jrlennon said...

Yeah, Matt, this is my feeling about note-taking in general, outlining in particular. It ends up being a bunch of embarrassingly obvious statements for me, too. But as a symbolic act, outlining may be important.

I'm getting a little more comfortable with the idea of not doing it at all, though. The novel I just finished was not outlined--I got the idea (from Rhian of course) and started the book a week later, and just kind of let it unfold. It was harder this way, but the result is different from my other writing. I think I'll pursue this strategy for a couple of books more, anyhow.

Matt said...

Good to see a more impromptu approach is working. Did you find this to be a faster process (in the fact that you were outlining - and paying attention to outlines - less)? Did the approach affect the style of the book?

jrlennon said...

It didn't affect the speed of composition--when I'm writing a novel I pretty much write four pages a day without stopping, regardless of my approach. But it definitely affected the style. In the first draft all kinds of random things happened as a result of the extemporaneous nature of the project. Most of them were worthless, but a few of them stuck, and now serve as major parts of the metaphorical engine of the thing.

I should add that I DID have a general idea of the scope of the book, and knew more or less what the ending would have to be like. But how I got there was a mystery. It was a little unnerving, and made revision a challenge. But it was worth it in the end, for the new perpective.

zachary-cole said...

Nothing insightful to add, but I'm about 60 pages into "The Funnies" (reading it on my lunch breaks) and ran into "incipience", or some for of it, in the text. It made me think of this post, and then wonder if this is a word you just like using ;)

E. said...

Incipience overwhelms me, probably because I am a world class procrastinator. The thought of beginning a long-range project *with no deadline* sends me into orbit. Curiously, planning a project -- i.e. making a novel outline -- is even more daunting. So far with my first novel, the seat-of-the-pants approach is working nicely (though without periodic workshop deadlines I'd still be noodling on the working title).

Here's my theory: if you like incipience, you'll really dig working without a net, because you can't tell how far into the thing you are, or if you've even begun, until you arrive. (I'm 80+ pages in and it still feels like I've just started. Possibly because I don't know what I'm doing.)

So that's my personal paradox: incipience wigs me out, yet my writing approach extends the sensation of incipience across the length of the project.

Like a rubber band fixing to snap.

My next book will be a breezy little nonfic number entitled "Batshit: 101 Ways to Make Yourself Crazy."

Matt said...

E: you add a good point (as well as resurrecting one of my favourite words in North American English, "batshit") in that being part of a writer's group or workshop can provide a "soft deadline" in that you may not be obligated to complete something, but there's a target to aim for nonetheless.

jrlennon said...

zachary-cole, I do believe it is a pet word of mine...thanks for reading The Funnies!

New post tonight or tomorrow, all...