The Right Kind of Interruption

Posted on 26 September 2011

This weekend, while plugging away on novel edits, all these ideas and plans for my next novel interrupted my work. I’ve been walking around with the general premise of this new novel for a while now, but this was the first time I actually started writing down notes. I could barely keep up with all the details and questions and possibilities that were flying my way.

I’m taking this as a good sign. Usually, I don’t start working on another big project until I’m completely done with the current one. Maybe, after stalling on these OPAL edits for much of the summer, my brain got impatient and wanted to work out the next thing.

Even so, I’m not in a big hurry to start this new novel. My OPAL edits are shaping up to be bigger and more complex as time goes by. The new idea may have gotten my attention, but it’s not about to pull me away entirely — I still have work to do on this side. Besides, I might want to approach the next novel in a different way.

A few years ago, I went to hear Ann Patchett speak about writing. Her process apparently entails planning out the entire novel in her head for months before she actually writes it. She has this perfect picture of what her book will be, and then she struggles to make it live up to her vision. (According to her, she never quite succeeds in getting the novel in reality to match up to all she had planned and hoped for.)

That definitely is not how I work — I write to explore and kind of figure things out as I go along. But I’m thinking for this new novel, I might try her approach. I’ll take more time to let the new idea percolate. I’ll work out the details and many of the plot snags in my head. And when I finally am done with my OPAL revisions, and when I’ve more fully worked out the landscape of this new novel, I’ll start writing.

What kind of interruptions did you face this weekend?

Photo: Ian Broyles

11 responses to The Right Kind of Interruption

  • Paul Lamb says:

    I’m always getting these same kinds of interruptions when I’m working on something. A new and different idea appears in my head. Or a useful development for some other idea on the back burner presents itself. I don’t stop what I’m doing, but when I have the chance, I make notes on whatever it is that has intruded.

    My most recent interruption has been the wonderful weather of late. I spent all of Sunday outside, not writing or reading.

  • Teri says:

    All this means is you’re hitting the ground running. It’s like you’re in a relay race with your next book, not quite making the handoff yet but still, ready for the next leg.

    It’s all good!

    • I like that. It also takes me back to my glory days as a third grader, that rare time in my life I could actually run faster than the majority of kids in my class. I always loved the relay race, and that dramatic moment of passing the…wand thingy. Stick? Baton? As you can see, I’m no athlete.

  • Lyra says:

    I do the same thing, writing to explore and figure it out. But like you, it inherently comes with so much rewriting once you get where you need to be.

    I’m so close to being done and now, now I’m working on an outline. Everything’s being done so backwards I can’t help but entertain every other way. Let me know how it works for you when you start on the next one.

    • “Everything’s being done backwards.” Yes, that about sums up my current process now. I’ve always been a bit envious of writers who can work from an outline from the very beginning, but it’s just not me. I’ll be sure to post more about this new method as I go, assuming I don’t abandon it and just start writing blindly like usual. I’m hoping to start the new novel in January 2012, but we’ll see.

  • Downith says:

    I think it’s a good sign too.

    I’m so forgetful, I have to write it down, or it’s gone.

    • I can’t tell you how many short stories ideas I’ve come up with in the last 6 months that have now flamed out and disappeared. For some of them, I told myself, “There’s no way I’ll forget this idea,” and didn’t write them down. You know how that worked out. For others, I have this messy collection of post-it notes where I scribbled a few lines about each idea. But I didn’t write enough and the magic isn’t there. So now I’m left holding crumpled post-its and wondering what the hell I was so excited about back when I had the idea.

  • Averil Dean says:

    I interrupted my WIP to rip out the subplot altogether. I lost thousands of words and every bit of my confidence.

    • Teri says:

      I felt a physical pain when I read this. I know this feeling all too well. The good news? The good news is that it was not meant to be and you will come upon the right (new subplot?) for your story. And be thankful for it.

      But first, the pain. And it hurts so much it’s disorienting, like when you sprain your ankle really bad and feel nauseous because of it. Hang in there. The swelling will go down.

  • lisahgolden says:

    This weekend I had a lot of domestic interruptions. And I wasn’t very gracious about it.

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