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This Writing Life: Staring into the Abyss (of a New Novel)

8 July, 2011

As I’ve mentioned a few times recently, once I’ve finished editing the novel I’m working on right now (which is probably only a couple of weeks away), I’m going to be moving on to a new one. I’ve been plotting, planning and researching for this project – which I’m calling ‘Dust’ at the moment – for months now, and yet a familiar feeling is starting to creep up on me. I’m calling it ‘staring into the abyss’.

You see, no matter how much of that plotting, planning and researching I do, starting a new novel is both terrifying and exhilarating. There are always unknowns, including whether the whole thing will succeed or fail. The middle of the novel is always a great black hole for me, and Dust is no exception. Not only that, but this is the biggest, most complicated novel I’ve ever attempted, which only makes peering over into that black hole more nerve-wracking.

There are, of course, solutions. The major one I’ve already mentioned above: all that planning. It’s a bit like lowering candle after candle into the abyss, each one illuminating a little bit more of the rock wall. With every new decision I make – a character’s name, their age, what they want in life, where they’re going to start the novel – the hole brightens and I can see more and more of the shape of my novel. Start and end points begin to develop, as do character arcs and the overall structure of the thing. Characters come to life, and let me know who they are and what they want. I begin to see how things are going to come together.

Of course, the problem with all those candles is that they let you see just how deep that abyss is. I certainly can’t see the bottom right now. Every new fact about my characters and plot that I prise out of my subconscious reminds me just how much I don’t know yet. How all these characters will interact with one another and how all their individual arcs will pan out is still a mystery. Just what will happen in the middle of the book to propel it toward the end I already have in mind is still hidden in the black hole.

All this uncertainty sounds scary, and it is – but it’s also thrilling, and fascinating. As I write and as I plan, I’m learning as much about this novel as any eventual reader will. I may discover things that will never make it into the novel, or which later need to be cut, but overall I’m plunging into an exciting new world. No-one else has been down this particular abyss before – each novel has its own – but eventually, one day, I might be able to illuminate it enough for readers to come down after me.

  1. NDP permalink
    8 July, 2011 10:55 am

    I know the black hole and the abyss well, as I’m writing my first novel. The black hole is all but cleared and finding the bottom of the abyss is now an exciting adventure. I must enjoy it, I’ve started on my second novel and I can see the third on the horizon. Keep going going and count the achievements.

    • 9 July, 2011 9:51 am

      Finding the bottom is always exciting… It just feels like a long way away for me right now! But, like you say, I must enjoy all this, or I would never have got past the first novel, and I’ve lost track of what number I’m up to now!

  2. 8 July, 2011 11:08 am

    that’s a great analogy – love it!

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