Archive for March 7th, 2011
Today I start writing my second novel. It’s funny, because although I’ve been working nonstop as a writer for the past few years, I haven’t been in this particular position since October of 2008, when I sat down to write the first paragraph of what later became Kamera. A lot has happened since then: I’ve relocated from New York to Chicago, gotten married, and, after a few wrong turns, found an agent and publisher. But something about that decisive moment of facing a blank page hasn’t changed, and I doubt that it ever will.
In short, it’s a little terrifying. But I’m as prepared as anyone can be. I’ve been brainstorming this novel since before Christmas. Research for the first part of the story is done. I have notes from my trip to London and a detailed outline. For those of you who care about the numbers, my final outline ended up being just over 16,000 words long, for a section of the novel that I estimate will be something like 40,000-50,000 words in all. This may seem like a huge outline, but the framework it provides allows me to face each day’s work without being paralyzed by fear, even if the final result often departs radically from my intentions.
All in all, I’m pretty sure that in about five weeks, I’ll have something resembling a draft of Part I of Midrash. But uncertainties still linger—unanswered questions, characters who aren’t entirely clear, parts of the plot that don’t quite seem to fit together, as much as I’ve tried to stitch them into a seamless whole. And that’s how it should be. Yesterday, I quoted the film editor Walter Murch on the importance of ambiguity throughout the creative process. Later in that same section of The Conversations, Murch says:
…You have to acknowledge that there must be unsolved problems at each stage. As hard as you work, you must have this secret, unspoken hope that one very significant problem will remain unsolved. But you never know what that is until the film is done. You can almost define a film by the problem it poses, that it can’t answer itself, that it then asks the audience to solve.
Replace “film” with “novel” and “audience” with “reader,” and you have something very close to my own philosophy of fiction. Let’s be thankful, then, for unresolved questions, unsolved problems, and uncertainty—because that’s where good novels come from. Or so I hope.
And now I’m off to work.