"Good novels are written by people who are not frightened."--George Orwell
This month I've finally been doing something I meant to do for the past two Novembers: NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Before this year, writing my dissertation took too much of my time and energy. When I started writing the diss, I had grand plans of working on it in the morning and still writing 500 words of fiction a day. Maybe it would have been a good thing to do--maybe it would have been creatively stimulating or restoring--but I tried for like half a week and I couldn't manage it. At the end of dissertation work-time, my brain was wrung out and I wanted nothing to do with any Word document. All I wanted was a hot bath, a cold beer, and an episode of Buffy. (Or to sob silently in my car outside the grocery store.)
This year, post-diss, I promised myself I'd really do it. I have a novel outline that I created several years ago. I even have a couple of chapters of it written. But this November I felt like working on something newer: an idea I just had, about a female kraken harpooner on the high seas. Bascially, part Moby Dick, part fantasy novel in the vein of Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs, which I recently read and adored. Harvanna is similar to Bennett's main character in some ways: she's relatively ordinary on the surface, suspicious of magic, and constantly has to prove herself in a male-dominated field.
Working on this project has been like no other writing project I've done. I don't have an outline. I don't have a plot. I don't even really know what the main conflict is yet. I have a character I love, a setting that fascinates me, and an inciting event. From there, where will the story go? I have no idea. It's frightening; it's the author's version of flying blind. The control freak in me finds this intolerable. The child in me finds this exciting. I generally live somewhere in between those two.
I haven't been writing 1,667 words a day (the required amount to reach the goal of 50,000 words mentioned on the NaNoWriMo website). And I've taken a couple of days off. But I'm still writing. Here's what gives me hope. When I finish one scene, I have an idea of what the next scene might be, and nothing more. Just the next scene. And usually it's something I'm excited to write about. When I get too freaked out about it, I remember Orwell's quote above, and take courage. I remember Anne Lamott's story of her friend Veronica, who prays for guidance, "one spot of illumination [that] always appears just before her feet, a circle of light into which she can step." The next scene is my spot of light.