Long before I took a stab at my first novel, I learned to ride horses. If the two actions weren’t such neighborly homophones, I would most likely never have considered their commonalities. Whenever I catch up with a friend, one of two questions usually comes my way. “How is your writing going?” sounds so close to “How is your riding going?” that I generally have to ask for clarification before I can answer.
Writing and riding are my two favorite pastimes. Mastering them requires something we, as writers at least, often ignore. If you’ve ever ridden a horse at any pace faster than, say, a walk, you’ll know what I mean about securing your center of gravity when you ride. If you don’t, you will find yourself leaning forward—headfirst—as your horse trots or gallops underneath you. If you don’t make the correction, you’re headed for a painful face plant. Experienced riders will tell you to overcome this by envisioning your body’s natural center of gravity—which is in your gut—and focus on maintaining control of your horse from there. When you ride from the gut, you can whether the storm that is a horse in motion and actually have an enjoyable time.
Writing novels, for me at least, is very similar. Like most writers, at any one time I have at least a dozen or so story ideas floating around my head. Most aren’t fully formed ideas and don’t have enough subplots and complex story arcs yet to be worthy of the time it will take to put them into manuscript form. Since I don’t own my own pensieve, I simply allow them to float around my head, knowing that I will either forget them if they aren’t truly worthy—or they will continue to form into something deeply compelling that absolutely must be written.
When that beautiful materialization actually happens—after doing any necessary research—I roll up my sleeves, pick the necessary character names, and start writing. From the gut. Personally, I don’t begin any story until I have that feeling in my midsection that I absolutely, unequivocally have to write it. Several years ago, I even abandoned story outlines for the most part. Halfway through a manuscript, I usually write a basic one to make certain I get to the big scenes that I want covered. But, the vast majority of the time, I’m sitting in my chair for all those long hours not because I have to, but because it’s virtually impossible not to sit there and write just one more scene. If my story isn’t keeping me up until it’s 3AM even though my eyes feel like sandpaper, then how can I expect it to draw others in the same way?
I had the idea for the series The Timebender’s Curse over three years before I started writing it. It floated about my head like the other stories, in a complicated mess for all that time. Then, one day, enough connections clicked in this complex tale of time travel that I simply had to drop everything and begin this four book series. When I was nearly through the first manuscript, I still didn’t have an outline and I was writing every scene from instinct—or the gut, as many call it.
This practice of writing manuscripts instinctively certainly doesn’t work for all writers, but I’ve read that about half of all novelists write this way. Possibly it leads to making a few mistakes that will hopefully be covered in the thick of edits. However, it is my firm belief that when I am writing instinctively, and passionately—as the Greeks would say using pathos to evoke emotional appeal—my stories are all the better for it. My novella, A Cold November Road, was written exactly this way.
How do you decide which stories to write and how do you go about writing them? Leave your comments here. I look forward to reading them.