26 June 2013

How to write a novel (writing prompt 6)

Earlier this month I got stuck working on the first draft of my novel. I felt overwhelmed - my story seemed like a nebulous, shifting cloud. There was so much I didn't know, so much I could explore. I didn't know where to start, and I had a deadline. A tight one.

So I turned to freewriting. Initially I just wanted to write something to express my frustration and sense of overwhelm, but what ended up happening is that I ascribed a concrete physical form to my story--as a metaphor--and somehow that worked. Thinking about my story as an island covered in lush vegetation helped me get unstuck.

This is the basis for this week's prompt, and I have also shared the prose poem "How to Write a Novel," which I wrote in response to the prompt.

Freewrite for 15 minutes on what it feels like to try to write the thing you're working on.

My Response:
**Please note that the following prose poem contains expletives.**

How to Write a Novel

Don’t let yourself get too far away from it. Don’t let yourself get picked up by the wind and blown away like you were Dorothy Gale from Kansas all huddled on her bed while the tornado raged and picked her house up and put it down right on a witch. (What bad luck that was there.)

Don’t let the story get away from you. Even if it is a herd of wild white horses charging across the desert and you’re left looking at their flanks in a cloud of dust and the dust tastes like drought and makes you sneeze. Don’t let it get away from you. It can’t get away.

Don’t abandon it. Don’t jump on that rescue boat and watch the shoreline of your novel recede into the distance—NO! Instead you must stay on the island of your story like the shipwrecked passenger you are. Or like Captain Jack Sparrow and whatsherface on that teeny little island. And even if there’s only one tree, goddammit, you’ll spend some time getting to know it intimately. And then you’ll start studying the grains of sand.

But your story isn’t a desert island with one sad palm tree on it. Its a fucking tropical island covered in lush jungle. And you don’t know yet how big the island is...or even whether it’s an island—for fuck’s sake it could turn out to be a peninsula attached to a fucking continent—and so far you’re just hanging out in this one small corner. And because it’s so lush and you only have a limited amount of time in which to document it, you’re struggling to figure out which plants and animals and patches of dirt to describe—there’s so much you could describe—and that’s part of what makes this so hard right now because you’re living in a metaphor and grabbing the unicorn’s horn and holding on for dear life as it tears through the vegetation. And you’re trying to hold on and document at the same time and that’s fucking hard. But you can do it.

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