I go all the way. When I’m writing, I live it, breathe it, and feel it. It’s the only way I know how.
I’m in the latter stages of completing a new novel. This will be the first novel I’ve released since 2012. In the last three years I’ve written and published – a collection of short stories, a romance novella, and my self-publishing guidebook, but I haven’t put out any new, novel-length work. For me, climbing into the writing cave and coming out the other side is an emotional experience. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done. Each time, after I’ve made it back to dry land, I feel as though something inside me changed during the process. Either I’m becoming a little more off balance with each book I write or I’m learning something about myself. I’m still not sure which it is.
“Find what you love and let it kill you.” – Charles Bukowski
Before I began writing this current novel I put together an outline. This was a new experience; previously I’d been a pantser and let the muse guide me wherever she saw fit. And, it worked. In 2011 and 2012 I wrote a couple of books that were very well received – great reviews, both became bestsellers in their categories, and one even made it top five in all of Amazon. This time I wanted to try a different method. For this book I had the beginning, middle, and end outlined before I started. Creatively, those three sections didn’t formulate in my mind in that order. I had the conclusion very clear in my head long before I knew how I was going to get there. In fact, the end was far more vivid than the beginning until halfway through the process. It’s been an interesting ride, and I’ve enjoyed it, and I believe I’ve now become a plotter. It’s taken the pressure off and that’s a good thing, because there’s a lot of pressure involved in writing a novel. I believe for a story to work, for my readers to buy into those eighty-thousand words, there has to be some truth involved. This can be literal truth or the truth that I’m trying to convey through the emotions within the story.
“A writer should create living people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”
– Ernest Hemingway
Within the pages of my new work there are several events that did indeed happen. Not all of them happened to me and not all of them happened exactly as I’ve described, but they did happen. I drew from similar experiences when I wrote My Temporary Life, the aforementioned debut novel that has been so good to me. Many readers are convinced this book is autobiographical. I was teaching a workshop a couple of years ago and two ladies who were attending kept referring to me as “Malcolm”, the protagonist’s name. I corrected them and said, “I’m not him.”
In very earnest voices, they answered in unison, “Oh, yes, you are.”
I immediately asked them to post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and then thanked them. Could I have received any stronger validation? They bought into the story and the character. So, my job was done – it worked. Many of the reviews that have been written about my first two books, or emails I’ve received from readers, have said the same thing. They believe the story actually happened and the characters from those books – Malcolm and Hardly – exist. They’re right, but they’re wrong, too. I write fiction. Although I utilize actual events, I make stuff up as well. In order to do this, I tune everything else out – sometimes the whole world. I think of my characters when I’m driving, they’re in my dreams when I try to sleep, I even get to the point that if something significant happens in my real life I wonder how they’re going to react when they find out. Yes, I’m the guy in the restaurant talking to his reflection in the glass. I listen to the voices in my head. There is no loneliness in writing for me – I have the souls who inhabit my pages to keep me company.
“Writers aren’t exactly people…They’re a whole bunch of people trying to be one person.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
Anyway, I better get back to it. I have a crush on one of my characters and I want to spend a little time with her. Soon, I’ll finish my story, and she’ll be just a memory. I’m hoping to have a draft ready for my beta readers in about a week so the end is nigh. If you’ve been where I am now, you know what it’s like. My words are slurred, vision is wonky, I even found myself chasing after an ice cream truck a few hours ago yelling “The Bells, The Bells.” Putting this article together is the most lucid I’ve been in days. Writing by living out my stories in my head is the most difficult, rewarding, all-encompassing endeavor I’ve ever experienced. I’m so lucky that there’s a place where my madness is considered normal. I go all the way, and I always will.
“The act of writing is never pretend. The blood, the tears, the heartaches – they’re all real. And, if they’re not it’s time to begin again.” – Martin Crosbie