Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Journey Starts with Small Steps

Sometimes an idea comes at night, when I have had to get up and strike a light to note it down -- sometimes when out on a lonely winter walk, when I have had to stop, and with half-frozen fingers jot down a few words which should keep the new-born idea from perishing -- but whenever or however it comes, it comes of itself. I cannot set invention going like a clock, by any voluntary winding up: nor do I believe that any original writing (and what other writing is worth preserving?) was ever so produced. If you sit down, unimpassioned and uninspired, and tell yourself to write for so many hours, you will merely produce (at least I am sure I should merely produce) some of that article which fills, so far as I can judge, two-thirds of most magazines -- most easy to write most weary to read -- men call it "paddling" and it is to my mind one of the most detestable things in modern literature. Alice and the Looking Glass are made up almost wholly of bits and scraps, single ideas which came of themselves.  -Lewis Carroll

I came across the above article a few weeks ago when I was in one my frequent Alice binges. It's taken from a newspaper article that Lewis Carroll wrote. The article was in fact a review of the first ever play production of Alice. The paper had asked the author to review it. In the article he went on to talk about the book and what it meant to him. 

I was struck by the above quote mostly because it's how I've always approached the writing process. Every book I write is basically a collection of random notes that have been jotted down over a period of time. Like Carroll (and probably all writers) I keep a notepad on the nightstand beside the bed. There are frequent wake-ups where I write in the dark--a skill I'm quite good at in the point in my life. During any long walk, I have my notebook in the my pocket. As L.C. pointed out, for some reason the best ideas seem to come when it's freezing out. I remember when I was writing Dirty Liar, I got stuck about half-way through and decided to walk through the woods on a freezing December day in Woodstock....the result was a major breakthrough.

I'm in the first stages of writing a new novel now, so I've been quite involved in this note gathering process at the moment. There's all these snippets of ideas floating out there and it's amazing to see them start to come together. They start mingling and interacting and attaching themselves to a character or a scene. In that way, it's true that a story isn't necessarily something a writer sits down to create. The story creates itself...we just put it together.

1 comment:

  1. That is so exactly right on, Brian. I do that same thing. I have no idea where the stories come from, and sometimes just writing down a word or two and drawing some arrows between lines becomes the outline for an entire book.

    Great post.