Starting a New Novel: A Metaphor

The 1980’s family is in the car, looking forward to their road trip. They’ve taken a couple of road trips before and the kids are dying to get going. But the driver—let’s call him “Dad”—is sitting up front fiddling endlessly with his roadmap.

The kids squirm. It’s getting hot in the car. “Can we just go already?” they whine.

Dad, the killjoy, won’t go until he’s selected all his routes, circled all his exits, and considered all the most interesting stopping places along the way. He knows the kids’ cry “Can we just go already?” will turn into “Aren’t we there yet?” before he gets to the first highway exit.

That’s just kids, he’s thinking. Wherever they are, they want to get to the next place. Dad is deliberate and steady. He’s not turning the key in the ignition until he’s thought it all out. Sure, there will be surprises and adventures he hasn’t pre-planned, but he’s not going to get his family lost. He’s not going to waste precious time on this trip.

Although to the kids, it feels like that’s all he is doing: wasting time with the boring map. They want to see stuff. They want to feel the wind in their hair. They want to take snap shots and have a good time. Sitting in the driveway, waiting for the fun, makes them want to slap each other.

Mom is alternately telling the kids to be quiet and let Dad concentrate, and then suggesting to Dad that maybe he has enough of the mapping done to get started. It is getting hot in the car.

I’ve been beginning this new novel for too long. That’s how it feels.

For my first novel, I used exercises from The 90-Day Novel, by Alan Watt, to plan it out. I also took an online novel writing course offered by Faber Academy in the U.K.

For my second novel, I used techniques from The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maass.

For my third novel, I am using methods from Story Genius, by Lisa Cron, and continue to refer to the other books listed above.

Maybe getting started on the writing of this, my third novel would have happened sooner if I’d stuck to methods I’d already learned, but I wanted to learn new things.

I have a huge pile of index cards for scenes and characters. I’m finishing up an outline which, like rules, is made to be broken. I’ve charted my plot points, but maybe I don’t have all the plot points I need yet, I worry insecurely. I’ve done a bit of research, but need to do more. I’m sort of ready. Not totally ready.

But hey. They do say, No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.

There does come a point when it’s time to fold up the map and turn the key in the ignition. That point comes today. We’re on our road trip.

The kids holler and cheer out the window.

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