You know that old cliché: we do more before 9am than most people do all day.
Substitute “think about” for “do,” and that’s a very neat summary of most professional writers.
At any given time, I’m pondering simultaneously my next column for Rebellious Magazine for Women, another magazine feature I’m writing, a textbook chapter I’m researching, plus any number of other pie-in-the-sky pet-project ideas. A column topic will spark while I’m standing in line at the grocery store, and I’ll open up my phone’s trusty “Notes” feature and jot it down. A brainstorm that will become a magazine pitch will emerge while I’m picking up my daughter from preschool. So I’ll jot that one down again.
Inspiration for further development of the column or the feature or the pie-in-the-sky comes while packing lunches in the morning, scheduling kids’ dental appointments, filling out another health form… Until I’ve eventually pondered my way to something that resembles the framework for a publishable piece of writing.
When I finally do sit down to write that column or feature or chapter, it’s pretty much done. As I hit pen to paper (or fingers to keys), I’m actually writing for less than hour. My process feels more assembly than creation.
I’ve employed this tried-and-true method my entire literary life, but it doesn’t work so well with an entire book. This could be why I’ve been stuck in the “pondering” stage for nearly seven years. I have plenty of big ideas and countless rough outlines in my head, but none of it is anywhere near the state of mental completion that I usually have when I finally sit down with a notepad or computer.
So I’m starting to think of writing a novel not as a huge book that needs to be bitten off in one huge, pondering bite, but rather as a series of columns or features. I’m allowing myself to ponder one plot line or character or element at a time. When I’m at the grocery store, I whip out the phone and jot down that flash of plot line inspiration. When I’m at preschool pickup, I quickly capture that lightning-flash of a character idea.
Transitioning from article-writer to novel-writer is like training a sprinter to run a marathon. I’m never going to be able to go out and run a marathon (metaphorically or otherwise), but I’ve always been a decent sprinter. Ultimately, a marathon is just a series of 100-meter dashes. Something like over 400 of them, but that’s not important right now.
I'm nowhere near a complete book, but I can see its arc for the first time. I’m sprinting through this marathon, 100 meters at a time.