(The last of my notes from the Rosemary Beach Conference for Writers. I think.)
JD leads a discussion on "How to Write a Novel in Six Months." He starts by quoting Somerset Maugham: "There are three secrets to writing a novel, and nobody knows what they are."
But here's the only secret to writing a novel in six months: 1) Sit your ass in the chair. 2) Write every day.
Carry and use a notebook. It announces to the world that you are a writer, and it reminds you of the same thing.
JD: "Fiction is gossip about made-up people."
Here's a few more parts of the secret:
1) Don't expect too much from a first draft.
2) Don't stop until you finish.
3) Don't be afraid of the inevitable failure.
4) Digress, chase rabbits, allow accidents.
5) Try again. Fail better next time.
Use material from your life. Write about yourself for the first two weeks. Don't even think about the novel. Not facts, just emotions. Fond memories. Regrets. Trace themes that run through your life. Ask, "Why?"
Next two weeks, write about characters. Who are they? What do they want? Need? What were they like as teenagers?
Notice things. Take photos. Collect news articles. Eavesdrop.
What was the last lie they told? Childhood trauma? Your own obsessions? How do they spend a Sunday? What's missing? What do they want to do before they die?
You character(s) has to want something intensely enough to do something to overcome any obstacles to achieving it.
Write your way through any block or problem.
If you don't surprise yourself, then you aren't going to surprise the reader.
Spend two weeks writing about the places. Be a city planner. Tell legends of the place. Foods eaten there. Annual rituals. Local tales. Who founded it? What is the climate? What kind of trees grow there?
You want to convey a taste of the soil. Somewhereness. Where it came from. Place is destiny. This story could not have happened anywhere else.
Spend a week on themes. Loss. Grief. First love. Marriage. Family. Divorce. Death.
Plot: The longer the work is, the more important plot becomes. But let theme guide the plot. How do actions and characters enrich or enhance the theme?
Hemingway's theme: A man faces death with courage. (Note the irony of his death.)
Point of view. Voice. — Try different approaches to who tells the story.
Don't generalize. Don't be universal; it comes off pompous. Be personal. Tell the story an inch at a time.
Process: Wonder what they will do next. Write that down.
Do the best you can, full in the knowledge that it's not good enough.
In the later drafts, you'll deal with subplots and tie up loose ends.
(Some loose notes from the panel discussion on Day 3:)
- You don't write from discipline. You have to love it.
- Get your best fountain pen and use it to shoot Bambi's mother.
- In a memoir, establish the theme early on. With a memoir, remember that they pay you for the pain.
- (Miles DeMott is wearing a T-shirt that says: "Careful or you'll end up in my novel.")