100-Day Novel Writing Challenge: Week Eight

Before I met my partner I was never good at writing lists.  When I lived alone I’d try to remember what I needed to buy at the supermarket, and if I forgot something, I’d just run to the supermarket and get it.  I found myself eating the same things, week after week, to have to think too hard about what I needed to buy.

Things changed after I started cooking for two people.  My partner hates endless trips to the supermarket — doesn’t everyone hate going to the supermarket — and he quickly taught me the beauty of writing a list of groceries to buy for the week.  I write the list, we go to the supermarket, and then we’re done for the week.

For the first few weeks of novel-writing I was applying this very principle to writing the first draft.  On a sheet of paper I’d write a list of the scenes I wanted to write for that week, and then, every morning, I’d consult that list and write.  And for a time that worked.  Before I started writing the actual draft I’d written enough notes to figure out how I wanted the novel to start, how to construct the initial situation; and so those scenes came easily.

But now I’ve launched into the novel’s much longer second act, and here the list is failing me.  I still set a marker for where I want my hero to wind up by the end of the week, but writing out daily assignments is now more elusive.  Like a good chess game, where the number of different outcomes multiplies exponentially with each move, I’ve been finding that the further I wade into my new story, the paths I can take are branching out and then branching out some more.  Where should I go?  Which path should I take?

And yet I spewed out more words last week than any other week of this experiment.  Instead of trying to figure out scenes ahead of time, I just started putting the characters together and bouncing them off each other.  The results are a mess, but I can still sense glimmers of what I want the final product to feel like:  the characters are saying things I didn’t expect them to say, doing things I didn’t expect them to do.  I have no idea if what I’m doing will make sense.  But with the deadline now just a few weeks away, I just keep writing.  I’m groping in the dark toward a conclusion I simply don’t know yet.

And you know what?  I don’t care.  I want to explore all the possibilities these new characters are presenting me, and I’m curious to know where they’ll take me –with as little interference from myself as possible.  Writing a novel isn’t like going to the supermarket, thank God.  And what reader wants to read a shopping list?

I now have over 40,000 words written.  But by April 25 it won’t matter if I’ve written 400,000 words.  Unless the draft has a beginning, a middle, and an end, the draft will not be finished.  And that’s what I need to keep in mind in order to win this bet.

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