The Best Description of the Novel Writing Process
If you read my articles on writing you probably I took up long form fiction late in my writing life after many false tries. And you likely know I found the entire experience of completing two very different novels an experience unlike any other writing. That difference was the degree to which you enter the unknown each time you sit down to write.
Of course the writer who captures this the best for me is Haruki Murakami, the revered Japanese novelist whose books are beset with strange occurrences in otherwise normal contemporary settings. And whose characters never seem to be particularly confused or frightened by these inexplicable things.
This sense of the mysterious on the fringes of reality infuses Murakami’s writing and he continually revisits it in each novel. For some he goes there too often and repeats himself, but I find that I love the immersion and escape it offers.
Recently, while reading an interview, I came across this quote:
“That’s an intriguing question. When I’m really focused on writing, I get the feeling that I shift from this world to the other world, and then return to this world. Kind of like commuting. I go there, and come back.”
This is pure Murakami, that shift from one reality to another and back and then the mundane observation that it is like commuting. His commute is into his imagination, where he does his work and then returns to the world from the ‘office’.
Stay open to the unexpected
Writing can be scary when you are trying to get something out there that is both grounded in believability and offering entry into a new place or point of view. I think this is really the goal of any fiction.
Hemingway was always focused on conveying truth, though his entire life was a kind of myth. His commute was into the head of his characters and the way their outward behavior revealed their weakness and strength. If you are writing like this you need to consciously return from that inner view after each session. This return commute leaves you time to refresh before your next day of writing.
It also helps you leave the world of the character’s inner lives and go out and observe anew. Our daily experience and observation of the world fuels our writing and we wake up the next day, ready for our commute into a different place.
There is a writing exercise that can help a stuck writer break out of their block and find the path to their story. Called automatic writing, it involves emptying the mind, writing the first sentence that comes to mind, and then repeating the process. This not to be confused with the spiritualist process called automatic writing where people claim to channel spirits! This an exercise in separating the conscious effort from the unconscious. You spend no time worrying about whether it makes sense, holds together, or has any value. You just do it on automatic pilot.
Then you put it aside and come back to it later when you’ve likely completely forgotten what you wrote. The expectation is that it will be incomprehensible gibberish that follows no discernable logic. But you may find there is something there with its own kind of meaning, meaning you may never have considered.
If you start channeling a dead sea captain or an angel, I’d suggest hanging up.
My speculation is that this helps us connect directly to the subconscious, bypassing logic and any temptation to edit things out. This is found in other art forms including free improvisation in jazz and dance, and automatic or gesture drawing where you may not look at the paper. So, if you’re in a rut and stuck in your driveway with no idea where to go, try it.
You might surprise yourself. Personally I love my daily commute.