John Michael Greer, over on his Dreamwidth site, recently proposed a challenge and project to his readers who are interested in being writers: writing a novel in public. He suggested not just that he would write said novel one scene at a time, posted on his blog, but that he would include notes on why he wrote what he wrote and evaluate how well it worked or did not work, as well as dealing with the revision process. In addition, he promised to provide guidance and exercises for coming up with ideas, filling in backstory, developing characters, and so on.
I read his suggestion with a certain intrigue and wrote in the comments (along with many others) that I would be one of the readers willing to join him in the journey. I have been writing sporadically, working on a couple different short stories for potential inclusion in a future edition of Into the Ruins, much as I published “An Expected Chill” in the fourth issue of the magazine, but have not brought either of the two stories to a conclusion. Furthermore, I have been toying with ideas for a few different novels—one of them continuing on from “An Expected Chill” and another stemming from the very short excerpt I published as a Coda in the second issue—but have not taken the plunge on either. I want fiction writing in my life, though (then I suppose I should just write, right?) and so I concluded taking part in this experiment could prove an excellent way to kick start a new burst of creativity and help keep me accountable to consistent writing at a public level.
So here we are.
Greer’s first true post in the series outlined a simple process for generating ideas and provided three basic ground rules for moving forward, all of which I appreciate enough to repeat here as a reminder for my audience (with my thoughts after Greer’s bolded rules):
Rule #1: Give your writing permission to suck. As Greer notes here, first drafts often aren’t good, and it’s through the process of revisions that good writing typically emerges. I have not yet decided how much revision I’m going to partake in before posting a scene here (more on this in a later post) but letting go of the idea that the first public presentations of the material must be “right” strikes me as a good way to help avoid writer’s block.
Rule #2: Your first thought is probably a cliché. This simple statement was something of a revelation for me. Greer writes, “We’ve all got imaginations stocked with other people’s stories, and that’s what comes to mind the moment we start trying to imagine our own stories.” Hallelujah! That’s been my experience with my own brain, and seeing someone who I respect—and who I consider pretty damn creative—make this point helps to put my mind at ease. His helpful suggestion to discard your first idea and to keep coming up with ideas until you come upon something that takes you by surprise is one I’m going to keep tucked away in my back pocket. I also expect this to be a challenge, though; I often can get stuck on initial ideas, even when it dawns on me after a bit that it’s far from an original one.
Rule #3: Nothing’s set in stone until the first copies come back from the printers. This one I understand well, especially now that I publish a magazine. However, it also serves as a good reminder that the writing doesn’t have to be just right to go out into the public; at least, not for this project.
Those are the ground rules. Now what about the idea-generating process Greer wrote about in the post? It’s simple, straightforward, and I have to admit it’s effective. I won’t rehash it here—you can simply go read the post yourself—but in following the process, I came out with a particular story seed that grabbed my attention: “A young boy living in the forest seeks revenge on the relics of an ancient city.”
Wait, what? Many of the other statements I generated did little for me, but this one intrigued. How exactly does one seek revenge on the relics of an ancient city? Why would one want to? What’s the seed of the desire for revenge? Is it possible such a mission could succeed?
The immediate questions started to hook me, and it wasn’t long before some potential answers began to make themselves known to me, characters and stories unspooling (admittedly, in fits and starts) in my mind. I started the project with the thought that I may dive into one of my pre-existing ideas for a novel, but after generation this story seed, I couldn’t let it go. This was the idea I wanted to explore.
So what then? Well, those above questions and quite a few more are the next step, and that’s where a notebook, a pencil, and a little time for brainstorming started to come in. I’ll write more about that very soon in a follow on blog post, and then we’ll get to the first scene of the novel.
However, since this is going to be a long-term project if all goes according to plan with a good number of blog posts that will best be read in order for those interested in following along, let’s make this initial post about the project a repository for all related future content. Do you want to keep tabs on this project? Bookmark the actual page of this blog post. Whenever I put up a new blog post, a new scene, a new bit of reflection, or any other content related to this project, I’ll update this post with a link to it. We’ll keep them in order, right here at the bottom: first post at the top, and moving down for later posts. This is, of course, the beginning, and so I won’t link to it below. But all future posts will show up here, and all those posts will feature a link back to this original entry. Granted, you can follow along by subscribing to this blog on the right hand side of the webpage (or probably at the bottom, if you’re on a mobile device) and I recommend that wholeheartedly as a good way to get notified of all future posts. But you can also check back here to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
Onward to (some day) a completed novel that (with luck, and much revision) eventually won’t suck!
Writing Right Out in Public Posts and Updates
(in chronological order–first link coming soon!)