Now that I’ve completed by Master’s degree, my one big unfinished project has started creeping up on me, preventing me from wallowing in contentment. At the beginning of 2012, I made a resolution to finish my novel-in-progress before heading to McGill and then utterly failed to reach that goal. I already had a major setback before that point, dumping over a hundred pages because it just wasn’t working, and getting up to the 250-page mark again happened in fits and starts, including a long break where I wrote an unrelated short story—fortuitous, because I sold that story. Not fortuitous, because it drained away time and creative energy from my major work. Once in Montreal I had little time for anything beyond academics and drinking. I started work on another chapter during the winter break because I was in Whitehorse with neither television nor internet nor a means of reliable transportation. I haven’t gotten back to it until now, and I’ve had to discard a good chunk of that few weeks’ work to get the story flowing again. Only it’s not easy, restarting from where I left off. The worst part is knowing there’s too many good bits left behind for me to just abandon the book altogether—I like these characters, I like this world, and most of all, I’m invested in finding out how this story ends.
That’s right. I don’t, currently, have any clue about the finale.
One of the problems with writing without an outline. I was never an outliner when it comes to fiction, since I tend to depart from the outline as soon as I start writing whenever I’ve tried one. That means a branching, haphazard first draft process, nosing ahead and writing away, then seeing if what I’ve written fits or doesn’t naturally flow…the ineffable feeling that something is or isn’t right for the story and characters. It’s an organic way of writing and not a very efficient one. It means the writing process is always interesting when things are going well since characters, events, descriptions, details, twists can pleasantly surprise in delightful ways by just appearing—an especially great experience if it all falls into place without need to backfill revisions in earlier segments.
This is very different from academic writing. Once “in the zone”, writing fiction is weirdly impulsive and pleasant. When writing papers I always have an outline and feel an incredible sense of dread going into it, force myself to type incessantly, day after day, until it’s finished, and then I’m usually surprised that I’ve produced something coherent by the end. If fiction writing were like that, I probably wouldn’t do it.
Yet I can also write myself into a knot where all the elements are difficult to untangle. Which is where I am now in the book, which is where I was back in August of 2012. And it’s frustrating, because the way my brain works I’m still geared towards it and can’t focus on writing something else. The only way to exorcise it is the finish it. Only I have no clear idea how.