Essays, Novel Writing

Reading and writing a new project

Patrick Rothfuss is a sweetheart
“The Name of the Wind,” a novel by Patrick Rothfuss, helped put me in the right frame of mind to get started on my latest writing project.  (Photo credit: Rakka) 

I can’t seem to write without reading. And when I do read, I always end up writing in the same genre I’ve been reading. When I read a lot of poetry, I find myself writing a lot of poetry. If I’ve read a couple of good YA novels in a row, my brain wants to write a YA novel. So, it was no surprise that an idea for a fantasy novel popped into my head right as I was finishing Patrick RothfussThe Name of the Wind a couple of weeks ago.

I was out for my almost-daily walk one morning when a couple of interesting characters began to have a conversation in my head. Normally when this happens, I reach for a pen and paper (or my laptop) and rush to capture these conversations word-for-word. What I usually end up with is a small bit of compelling dialogue that goes absolutely nowhere.

This time, as I eavesdropped on this interesting conversation in my head, new characters began to drop in one-by-one. Instead of trying to remember their every word as I continued my walk, I began to ask myself who these people were and how they were connected to one another. A name began to form for my main character, which never happens for me. In fact, some days, names are the bane of my existence.

When I got home from my walk that morning, I sat down at my laptop and made the decision to approach these new characters in a new way. Instead of acting as a note taker, scrambling to record each word as it was dictated to me, I sat down in front of a fresh, new Word document and typed up the following simple words: This is a story about…

I then proceeded to write exactly what my story was about, figuring out what the connections were between each of the voices in my head, trying to decide where I want them to go and what I want to do to them. (I am itching to kill off my main character for some reason, but that’s a story for another day.)

Three hours and eleven pages later, I had written an entire story from start to finish. It was that simple. Rather than allowing myself to get bogged down in the details, I sat and told my entire story without bothering to write any dialog, build any tension, or set any scene.

Of course, I have ideas for all of these elements, and the scene has already been set in my head. But it often seems as though figuring out the full story is what keeps me from finishing any of the other partial manuscripts I have sitting around in drawers, on desktops, and on my hard drive. I’m excited to see where this new approach might lead me. Hopefully someplace exciting and interesting, and near complete considering the fact that I’ll be doing my thesis in the spring and need to have a nice number of pages written before the spring semester begins!

What’s your writing process? How does it compare to mine, and what do you find helpful when starting a new project? Please share your ideas in the comments below. And, if you haven’t yet checked out my new Writers Anonymous group on Facebook, I hope you’ll join us today. I’ll be posting a variety of interesting writing resources as I come across them.

~Mandy Webster

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4 thoughts on “Reading and writing a new project”

  1. I’d be really interested in seeing what those 11 pages looked like, or at least get a handle on what the end result of your 3 hours looked like on the page. Was it structured and easy to read (like an outline) or was it stream-of-consciousness and only you can decipher it? I’m interested as I have real trouble building plots and I can’t write without an outline so I’d love to see how this differs.

    1. Good question: It came out of me stream-of-consciousness, but at the same time, it was very structured. I basically sat down and wrote, “First this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” It was all telling, no showing at all… Just a very linear progression of what happens step-by-step in the story.

      I didn’t do very much backtracking to fill in blanks, as the story seemed to flow out of me very easily. I didn’t stop to think about what anyone said, or what the setting looked like, or anything like that but instead focused on what “happened,” and how each happening lead to the next. It was almost as though the entire story was already sitting there in my subconscious, just waiting for me to get it out on the paper. It was very freeing to decide that I was simply not going to worry about whether or not what I was writing was any good, but instead just focus on “telling” the story.

      I feel like I’m just rambling at this point, so I hope I’ve managed to answer your question. I have a new post up today where I talk about how I took those pages and put them into a Hero’s Journey outline. You should check it out!

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