I’m endlessly fascinated by other writers’ processes; by how the story forms for them, by whether they plot or don’t, by whether they know where they’re going when they set off. But then I also love the idea of this process being a total mystery and I don’t want to ruin the fantasy that some magical, impossible-to-explain thing occurs when we write. To be honest, it feels a little that way for me, and I guess I’m ultimately wondering if I’m the only one.
I find my stories by writing them. The act of physically writing delivers the novel to me. I don’t plot. I don’t know exactly where I’ll end up or how I’ll get there when I do. I might vaguely have a destination and a few stop-off points in my head, but some of those don’t happen, and others occur as I go. It’s a bit like getting on a bus for a mystery trip. Maybe I’ll know the region we’re heading for, but not the exact town. And I’ll have no idea how long it’ll take to get there.
I feel like if I know the full story before I set off, I won’t have those wonderful moments where a reveal or surprise naturally occurs. I feel like I won’t listen to my characters and let them lead. I believe the words my characters say when they say them and so hopefully on the page, for the reader, they ring absolutely true as well. So if I learn something new about a character along the journey, the shock I feel is raw and that hopefully goes directly into the prose.
I do begin a new notepad with each novel that I write. I still have most of them. They are full of random scribbles; of ideas that came to me in the night; of things I thought of on the bus. There is no order or pattern. I’m OCD everywhere in my life except in my writing. I’m OCD about my surroundings, my plans, my cupboards, my lists, my shopping. I guess my writing is the only place where I’m truly free.
When I started my current novel, I Am Dust, I knew it would be set in a theatre. I knew there had been a murder and I could see my main characters. I had a feel for it rather than a clear vision. I didn’t know who had killed the lead actress in my show until I was at the halfway mark. Then it was like I had always known, somehow, on a subconscious level. It takes the writing of the story to open that information up for me. Today, at the 55,000 words mark, I realised that one of my characters has been lying to me. I was as shocked as if a friend had done so. But because I didn’t know until now, everything I’ve written about them will seem true because I believed it was when I wrote it.
Am I ever afraid that the story won’t come? That the white page will remain blank? No. It always happens. I guess if it doesn’t, then my writing days will be over. How about you? Do you plot carefully … or do you just set off, loose ideas in your head, fingers on the keyboard, and trust in the process?