There is a saying among writers, 'a book writes itself". That's obviously not true and my recent lack of sleep can attest to that but in an odd way I understand this phrase. In the same way that Michaelangelo stated his sculptures already existed within the marble, he simply removed the unnecessary bits, I have come to know how my characters can drive the creative process in a way that seems to remove me as an element.
Creating a book is a bit more like a puzzle where you have infinite combinations of your source material (words, sentences, chapters), how you put those materials in order is the key. Brian Henry, book editor and creator of the Quick Brown Fox blog/newsletter/email, has added to that idea by saying 'it doesn't matter what you write about, but how you write it'. This contrasts with the commonly held belief that you should write what you know, in other words, the more you know your subject matter, the easier it is to write about it.
I have to agree with Brian here and my acquiescence has only come about in the last few days after I participated in a marathon writing contest, the 3 Day Novel Contest, where writers are challenged to write a complete novel from start to finish in 3 days. That's 72 hours of complete and utter mental torture. At times I felt I was doing okay and that I'd make it to the end but there were other times when I was in a blind panic wondering why I did this to myself.
After the first day of organizing my thoughts and writing what I was convinced was a stupendously bad beginning chapter, I realized I would need to forgo sleep if I was going to create anything close to a novel in three days. I went on the 3DNC website and re-read their survival guide. They indicated that the first day is usually a complete write off (no pun intended) and I didn't feel I had wasted the day or created complete garbage prose but I could see how it takes time to get into a flow so I accepted the less than successful first day blues.
I managed three hours of sleep before I was rudely awakened by an inspired thought. I went to the computer and began to type. And I typed. And typed. I have no idea where the inspiration came from or how the words formed themselves into sentences. They just happened. I wrote dialogue with ease, something that has been a vexation in my writing. Normally I avoid it. But here I was putting words in my character's mouths that fit with who they were, or rather who I had made them. I wrote a Texas accent. I flirted with clichés and skirted stereotypes. I danced.
Late into the evening of the second day, I was at about 4.5 hours sleep, 2 pots of coffee at home, 2 trips to a coffee shop to meet a fellow 3DNC writer to commiserate and 1 trip for fast food. I needed to sleep so I did what every sane person does, I went grocery shopping. I thought I would clear my head of the jumble of ideas. All I did was people watch and add to the tippy pile of plot twists, dialogue and descriptive text already threatening to take me down.
At midnight I resumed writing. It was at that time, for no apparent reason, that I wrote things I hadn't preconceived. I wrote new characters who hadn't existed anywhere except in that moment. And as I forced myself to breathe through the giant lump in my throat and goosebumps all over my body, I was presented, from somewhere deep inside me, with infinite possibilities for the outcome of my story. My book began to write itself. I named one of my characters after my father, something I hadn't given a thought to but it made perfect sense in hindsight. I wrote a speech that one character delivered. I was writing dialogue like it was second nature. And I couldn't get rid of the goosebumps.
Mid-morning I wrote a sentence that wrapped up a chapter. It was a powerful sentence and I wept. I asked myself what came next and the answer was 'nothing'. I had my ending. I spent the rest of the day editing, expanding on prose that I had previously glossed over, where I had made editor's notes to come back if I had time. I had time.
I read through the entire manuscript, knowing I would need to re-write the first chapter and was surprised to find it wasn't as bad as I remembered. My inner editor had been very critical in the beginning but somewhere after the first midnight passed, I killed her. There was no time for self-doubt or criticism. I had a novel to write, dammit.
I met my co-conspirator shortly after midnight. We both had finished on time and were set to submit our manuscripts (hers after she typed up her hand-written notes) and we were surprised to learn we had both created roughly the same number of pages and words (64 pages and 16,661 words for me, 62 pages and 14,983 words for her). The next day was spent in a daze and sometime that evening I began to cry. The first few tears came down as simple tear duct effluent. In fact, I didn't know what was tickling my cheek until I brushed it away. Then the floodgates opened. I was emotionally spent.
I have since vowed to write on the weekends when my domestic partner is working and I have the house to myself. Oh, and I can't wait for next year's 3 day novel contest because although it was a painful, emotional and physically exhausting experience, I would do it again in heartbeat.