For about the past year I’ve been in some nebulous writing space when it comes to my next novel. While I’ve been pounding out short stories each month, I’ve also been furiously scribbling notes in parks, in the car, at restaurants, and at my desk. I’ve been creating massive family trees and designing sets. I’ve been writing scenes and sketching outlines and placing them aside, not quite sure where to go next.
I’m calling this conglomeration of activities the “germination stage” of the new novel. And this past week the germination phase came to a close as I entered the “gathering stage.”
A little bit at a time, I have gathered together what seem like the best of my ideas and put them into a structure I think will work for telling my story, which will span from 1859 to the present, encompassing several generations of a family’s history, but which I have determined I will tell through three separate POV characters. The scope of this novel has created unique structure issues for me (my first novel takes place over a few months and was written entirely from one perspective). The uncertainty about just how to tell the story has stymied my efforts to actually write the thing. So last week I sketched out 30 chapters and essentially outlined the entire novel, something I’ve not done successfully in the past.
In addition to the outline, I’ve gathered scads of images: railroad maps, house plans, photos indicating clothing styles and covering historical events, garden designs and tree profiles, quilt designs and furniture examples, photos indicating mood and available technology. I’ve taped all of these to two pieces of foam board (connected in the middle with packing tape so they fold up and can be made to stand up on the floor or a table). It’s sort of a primitive Pinterest board where I can see everything without accessing the internet (which, generally, one should avoid doing if one wants to get any writing done).
The process of gathering is just as beneficial to me as the actual product. It makes me review everything I’ve been thinking of, makes me order events in my mind, makes me realize where events need to be foreshadowed in earlier chapters, shows me what I need to research. The product itself (the boards) will serve as a road map for my writing and as inspiration when words aren’t coming easy.
Sometimes we have an idea for a story that balloons so much that it’s hard to keep everything straight in our heads and we lose sight of the main thrust of the narrative we want to create. In times like these, going through your own unique process of gathering and ordering your ideas is so useful. Now that I have all of these words and images on my little idea boards, I feel mentally ready to start tackling this project. Everything is there, I just need to breathe life into it.
Have you been avoiding a big writing project because you just didn’t know where to start or how it would all hang together? Perhaps you should try making it more visual. Get it out of your head and into reality and maybe you’ll find the pieces fitting together in ways you hadn’t anticipated.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, since my gathering is done, I need to get on to the next–and most exciting–step: writing a world into being.