How do you start a new novel?
“First I defrost the refrigerator.”
That’s a (perhaps apocryphal) Hemingway quote. I just came across it recently, and it makes an amazing amount of sense to me. Even though I have a frost-free refrigerator.
I also have are a couple of kids who are seemingly intent on killing themselves and a house that keeps threatening to turn into a superfund site. But while I’m attempting to stop those things from happening, I’m writing– in my head. Sometimes it’s explicit, like when I’m thinking through some important worldbuilding issue like what kind of underwear my dark fae prefer, and other times I’m dropping a knotty plot problem that I can’t figure out down to the Morlocks of my subconscious. During all of that busy work (or occasionally when I’m just sitting around), I’m writing. Honest! Plot lines are being figured out, characters are being created, motivations established, all while laundry is folded, kids are watched and lunch is made.
Okay, let’s make an important clarification here- No, I am not some Martha Stuart superclone who maintains a perfect home life while writing. My folding often more closely resembles wadding, watching the kids is usually more like busting up the fights when they start to draw blood, and an awful lot of time involved in making lunch consists of me standing in the middle of the kitchen wondering why the hell I’m holding a jar of peanut butter.
Let’s just say there are costs to multi-tasking.
But this is how writing works for me. I cannot just sit down and do it. I have to think about it. Mull it. Poke the stories with a stick for days inside my head (or weeks, or months, or…) Then when one is ready, I can sit down and tear through it, usually fairly quick. Then I’ll finish, shut the file, and ignore it. Go back to wadding laundry, or raking out the drifts of crumbs that have collected under the dining room table. Then, when I’m ready (ie can’t bear it anymore), I rip open the file, stare aghast at the horrible thing within, and revise it with a hammer.
I’ve always written this way. My roomate in college was often amazed at my seeming ability to just sit down an churn out a research paper in an afternoon (eighteen pages in three hours was my record). But he didn’t see all the effort that I put in before hand. Well, he did- he saw me wandering around the house. Watching Cops. Cleaning my room. Lying corpse-like on the floor. He saw all those things, all that procrastination, and didn’t realize that’s when the writing was really getting done.
When you’re chasing the kids. Or staring at the ceiling. Or defrosting the fridge.
Oh, or playing video games. That is the best way to work through writing. Much better than housework. I just don’t get why my wife doesn’t understand that.