One of the things which has most pleasantly surprised me about the novel writing process is what I have learned about myself and what I have learned about what I didn’t know that I knew.
When I sat down to start my novel, blank screen in front of me, I literally had no idea what I would write about. I knew only that I had long harboured a desire to write a novel and the biggest stumbling block preventing me from actually doing it was the thought that I had absolutely no idea of what I would write about. Unlike many other writers I had not mapped out a detailed outline, written up complex character sketches or outlined the goals and motivations of my main characters. I had nothing but a blank page and an open, empty mind.
From this blank space a mental picture gradually emerged. A cold winter morning, a man standing on the bridge of a boat staring into the misty distance, rubbing his hands together and stamping his feet to keep warm. Who was he waiting for and why? I started asking questions about him and allowed my imagination to provide the answers and slowly his story has unfolded.
This is a fascinating process because it feels like I am reading the book as I write it. Like the reader, I have no idea what is going to happen next and I am on a voyage of discovery, but I am journeying not only into the life and mind of my characters, but also into my own subconscious.
Every now and then it coughs up something unexpected on the page and I stare in amazement. Where did that come from? I didn’t know I was thinking that. I didn’t know I knew that. Sometimes it feels like I’m coughing up a hairball; dry and scratchy and I really want to get rid of it. Ugh. There, it’s out. I look at it on the page. It’s ugly, but it adds something to the story. Mmm…I can work with this. Other times something rich and delicious rises within me and I roll it around the back of my mouth like a smooth single malt. Yes, I want to hold on to this, savour the flavour, even let it mature a little more before I let it out on the page.
And so, as I have embarked on the exciting journey of writing my first novel, the unexpected by-product has been, in parallel, a journey into self-discovery. Don’t get me wrong, it is a work of fiction, the characters and plot are all a figment of my imagination, so fictitious in fact, that I too did not know they resided somewhere within. What I am discovering is the vast and wonderful expanse of imagination, of what resides within my mind while I am busy with life. And all that I have needed to access this rich and interesting place is the discipline to sit down each day and write.
Apart from the satisfaction derived from putting words on the page – not just any word, but the word which conveys exactly the fact and sentiment intended – apart from the rhythmic pleasure of the language and the technical attention to detail, I have also enjoyed this journey into the unchartered territory of imagination. It is in this place of imagination that my subconscious comes out to play and it is in play that, like a child, I am learning surprising things. For that reason alone, and even if my book is never published, it will have been well worth the effort I am putting into it.
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