The Long Path to a Novel

This is how it starts. 

You have an idea, something you feel an itch to write about.  It’s rooted in the past, in real people who really existed but when you think about it, the project is decidedly novel shaped.  You do some research, visit some museums and galleries.  Your interest grows further.  One day, you have a flotation session.  It’s meant to be for relaxation but you can’t stop thinking about the idea.  In the course of that hour, during which you’re immersed in total darkness, floating in a pool of highly salted water, you envisage the whole novel.  You’re not plotting it, exactly, in your head but it feels kind of whole and experiential.  It’s kind of mystical.  But definitely exciting.

You start to write it.  It’s definitely novel shaped.  You abandon it because you don’t know how to proceed, and because you’re not sure if it’s good enough. 

Then, for a number of reasons, you move towns.  Actually, you move countries.  You’re busy with other things – parenting a child, establishing a life in a new place.  You’re writing but writing other things because somehow that idea belongs to another time and place.  You stash away everything associated with the idea deep in the hard drive of your computer.  Occasionally, over the years you take it out and look at it and think ‘maybe it’s not so bad.’

Fast forward several years.  By now, you’ve written other things: novels #1 and #2, in fact.  But you realise that, all this time, the idea has been holding you in its thrall, even if there’ve been long periods when you haven’t actively thought about it.  You’ve been too busy writing the other novels.

Now, though, it comes back to you, the idea.  You remember why you felt passionate about it in the first place.  Thinking about it is like a long ago love affair.  Or perhaps a one night stand.

You wake up one morning and think it might be time. 

You return to the city where you had the idea, revisiting the galleries and museums.  You spend hours in libraries.  You get that rush again: ideas and images and snippets of dialogue.  You sketch down notes for characters.  You buy a stack of index cards and in every spare moment, start scribbling down sketches that might become scenes.  You invest in a beautiful book, a catalogue of the artist’s work, charting the life of this artist you’ve always wanted to write about.  You’re enchanted by her paintings, by the Klimt-like colours, the symbolism and long female figures.  They have titles like ‘Man Makes the Beads of Life but Woman Must Thread Them’ and ‘The Long Path to Desire.’

Still the idea keeps deepening.  Any time now, you’ll be ready to start the writing.  One day, when online, you find someone has thrown down a gauntlet, a challenge: write a novel in 80 days.  A thousand words a day.  And you think, perhaps it can be done.  After all, you’ve been thinking about it for eight years. 

80kwords80days.  May: You Write Your Novel.

And, this way, little by little, brick by brick, you might get to build it, at last.  The scaffolding is in place (you trust your index card system implicitly) but you know there’s flexibility to alter it when the narrative requires.  By now, you even have a title: The Long Path to Desire.

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