As I write my ‘novel’, I can’t help but reflect on the process. For me, it is surprisingly easy. When I sit down to write, the words start flowing. I still have no idea where it is going but I enjoy that. I still have no idea what the genre of the novel is. I have a theme which is to explore various subjects through conversation. I have never been much of a fiction writer, in fact, this is my first attempt at fiction and if I hadn’t signed up for NaNoWriMo, I doubt this novel would have been ‘born’. Since I am more comfortable with writing short analytical and reflective pieces, I am doing the same thing but using conversation as a medium to do so in order to better articulate various themes I explore. So far, I have touched upon Ayn Rand, the Matrix and the whole reality/illusion debate, the concept of truth, history etc, as well as included some snippets from my personal life, such as the reason why I fell in love with mushrooms. While most of the novel is imaginary, in the sense that the conversations have not really taken place (except in my head), some of it has been drawn from actual conversations I have been lucky enough to have had. I suppose, to that extent, I draw a lot of inspiration from true events.
My biggest challenge is articulation. While, the concepts are very clear in my head, when it comes to explaining them, sometimes, I find it difficult to articulate clearly. However, I carry on writing anyway because as far as I am concerned, the basic idea is to get everything down on paper at first and improve upon it or edit it later. Perhaps, that is part of the reason why I don’t feel intimidated or bogged down. I don’t edit myself and I don’t put pressure on myself to make it perfect from the beginning. I am still exploring how this novel will carry on because 8000 words in, I am as clueless as the day I sat down to write it. I enjoy the mystery, though. I enjoy the fact that I have no beginning, middle or end in mind. I enjoy letting it unfold the way it wants to.
The other challenge I face is description. I have always found it difficult to describe things. I think I am a very visual person and I rarely notice the sounds and smells of a place. Be that as it may, ask me to describe a place visually and I usually draw a blank. My vocabulary immediately shrinks to include only words like big, bright, red and other mundane words used for description. I am unable to bring a place alive just by explaining it through words. Interestingly enough, something similar happens when I read- I am unable to visualise what the author has described. I suppose part of the reason for that is that I tend to get very lost when I read and the book takes on a life of its own. Characters look and behave the way I want them to. Instead of strictly following what the author tells me, I go off on my own tangent. Fortunately that has never diminished my experience when it comes to reading. In fact, I find that it enhances it. Perhaps, that is why I find myself actively avoiding description when I write. Part of the reason is that if I start being descriptive, I know that I will feel intimidated and might lose my train of thought. The other reason is that I am procrastinating over it and hoping to postpone it as much as possible. The way I see it, I can always do it in the end and concentrate on the meatier parts of the novel right now. I don’t know if this is how it is done but I don’t think there is any right or wrong when it comes to writing (as a process); I think it really comes down to what works for me and this is working marvelously. I am happy.
One of the things I realised while writing is how much control an author has over not only her characters and the way their lives unfold but also over the way the reader reacts to the story. I don’t suppose every reader is like me, rebelling against what the author dictates, not so much intentionally as because I can’t help myself. I have even fallen head over heels in love with characters. For example, I fell in love with Howard Roark when I read the first line of The Fountainhead- “Howard Roark laughed”. That did it for me because I instantly imagined this whole character around that sentence. Reading the opening paragraph where he jumps off a cliff naked pretty much sealed the deal for me. I still harbour very strong feelings for him. No, I am not insane and while my mother has not had me tested (yet!), I am fairly certain that I have managed to preserve at least some amount of sanity, despite the fact that my favourite animal is the figment of someone’s imagination (the unicorn, in case you are wondering) and I often wonder whether my life is merely a figment of my imagination. But I digress.
I love playing god with my characters. I know that I dictate everything they say, do, wear and even how they look. Their life plays out the way I want it to. I choose whether things work out for them or don’t; I decide whether they have a happy ending or not. This kind of power is mesmerising (to a certain extent). I have never been drawn towards power and I find the idea of having power particularly scary, especially this kind of absolute power, which has no real consequences. However, I enjoy the power I have over my characters because they are imaginary. If I choose to put in a lot of myself into the book, I can choose to play out my whole life the way I want it to, where everything works out for me and I have the happy ending I so desire. Perhaps, I can even use the novel as a means of delivering retribution to certain people, indulging my dark side, if you will. I think that is what is so lovely about writing fiction, the fact that I can indulge my deepest, darkest desires without letting them affect them anyone, including myself. At the same time, I know that if I put in too much of myself into this novel (as I am likely to do), it will never see the light of day and will sit unread on the hard drive of my dying laptop.
This is a challenge I face everyday- how much of myself I should put into my novel and how much of my dark side should I let it show. How personal can I make it without letting on the fact that it is me I am talking about in the ‘novel’. Having said that, I am also not particularly worried about this because I am not concerned whether this novel will ever be published. At some level, it is therapeutic for me (much like this blog) and if it allows me to grow as a writer and a person, I would be happy. After all, where there is one book, perhaps, there is another one just waiting to come out and surprise me, much like this one did.
For the time being, I am happy to just be writing, exploring various themes, styles, concepts and enjoying this kind of unbridled power. It is a heady experience and I intend to make the most of it. I wonder if I will reach the target 50,000 words by November 30, considering how far behind I am. However, as far as I am concerned, NaNoWriMo has served its purpose merely by giving me the incentive to write and allowing me to discover the words in me. Whether I win it or not, is now entirely irrelevant, for I know that I will continue to write long after November 30 has come and gone.