Years ago a very weird thing happened. Because of it I wrote Sword And Blood. (And have the two planned sequels outlined safely in notes, with key scenes in longhand.)
First of all let me say that when I started out writing, I didn’t outline anything. I tried outlining a novel, because I’d read one should, but then I didn’t want to write the novel. My subconscious thought it was done and simply wouldn’t budge.
So I learned not to outline. Just write it. However I was young and novels are complex things. I’d start out with an idea of where it started and where it ended, but what happened in the middle often went “wrong.” As in, I was incapable of imagining to the depth or realism or detail needed and took the easy way out – coped out, in other words. And then it didn’t feel right, and I either ditched the novel or spent two months trying to back up to where it had gone wrong. It made the whole writing process difficult and protracted.
And then I got ill while trying to write a book. To make things easier, I outlined it at a very high level, then did ten chapters at a time at a detailed level. This time it worked. For about ten years, I became a plotter and outliner. Heck, I used to outline short stories.
Then strangely my old complaint came back. I couldn’t outline. If I outlined, I betrayed the story. I can’t fully explain it, but when I outlined, I wrote in the “easier” option. Easier to see and easier to endure. Carefully outlined novels became somehow shallower, not as deep.
Writing some scenes is like falling on your sword. You see the metal there, you know it’s going to hurt like a bugger before it does its job. And you do it… once. Now imagine our Roman who fell onto his sword magically reanimated and healed and doing it again… on purpose. I doubt anyone could.
So when I outlined I flinched from the painful scenes and instead of falling on my sword, I gave myself practice cuts on my skin. And then – because with me an outline has that effect – when I wrote it, I stayed at that level.
And then I broke. This was now almost five years ago, also known as the year when I homeschooled and wrote six books. Oh, yeah, and attended a bunch of cons. I remember at a con in March telling someone I’d just finished my second book of the year, and having her look at me like I was nuts.
Round about June (four books) I realized I couldn’t turn my mind off. I know this sounds silly. I know you’re going “Why would you want to turn your mind off?” Because I’ve found “turning off” as in, spending a day or two reading and absorbing other people’s ideas, or going for a walk and enjoying the mere sensory experience, or any of a half dozen similar things are needed for me to keep writing without getting ill or entering a sort of total, deadly silence. (Though I’m finding having an office and working on different stuff on the weekend is enough to provide a break. But I’m not doing six books OR homeschooling either — okay, it might turn into six books, but they’re not six books under contract and to specs. It’s different.)
Normally the surefire way to turn off my mind is to go to Denver overnight, go for a walk by the duck lake, or hit the museums or the zoo. Being away from home/work is enough.
But five (almost) years ago I couldn’t do it. Going away helped… for a week. And then I wanted a vacation again. Because the mind never fully went off track on the current novel.
That’s when I found my escape… Which involved doing … more. That is, it involved my starting art classes. While I was concentrating on that, I couldn’t think of writing. More, it was a different mode of thinking: all tactile and visual, not words.
And it was while coming out of an art class that I got all three (to be honest six, as there’s three sequels with a character yet unborn in the first three.) books… the best explanation is “downloaded” into my mind, completed. Even the wording was there for key scenes. (Mind you, it’s been a while, so in writing the second and third, I’ve found I’ve lost stuff, and “getting it right” involves a tuning process, much like turning a radio dial. I know when it’s “right.”)
That it was vampires didn’t surprise me. I run to horror when I’m near snapping. That it was that detailed, that complete, and… well… like it had come from someone else’s head, did shock me.
Around that time I was talking to Walt Boyes and he recommended the Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bi-Cameral mind.
While I think the man has something there, I think his thesis is fundamentally wrong. We always like to think we invented things over our ancestors, but thinking we invented consciousness is really one step beyond the pale.
I think what he’s forgetting is what any anthropologist or literature critic would take into account. What he’s using to evaluate a whole culture is the output of a few people – shammans, playwrights (in Greece) or bards, all of which claimed divine inspiration. The thing is, we have no way of knowing if they believed in what they claimed, or if this was their way of gaining credibility with their tribesmen. Beyond that, we don’t know if they were typical, or if they were as different as authors are today.
Look, it’s a secret we don’t tell everyone, but the thing is that there are very few writers whose story doesn’t escape them in ways that baffle non- writers. I’ve yet to meet a writer who doesn’t sometimes say something like “And then the story twisted” or “The character just wouldn’t die” (or live. Even when you try to save her.) Get a few writers who trust each other together, and there it comes. Mode of speaking? Maybe. From my experience, though, it’s sometimes the only way to describe what we go through.
That these incidences of experiencing what seems like someone else/something else in your mind tend to happen when we’re tired/frazzled/on our last brain cell is probably significant. Julian Haynes description might even have something to do with what happens in our minds. (Though I doubt most of us think it’s gods or even characters dictating. We just talk about our novels like they have minds of their own, like this “Damn thing wouldn’t be written third person!”)
In my more grandiose times, I imagine there’s something in fiction writers’ brains that is designed to communicate with/catch communication from parallel universes. But that’s probably because I am a fiction writer. In my everyday thinking, I assume those novels that show up fully formed are in fact hatched by our subconscious. Or at least mine.
Whatever the truth, I’ve found that after Sword and Blood, the novels refuse to be outlined. And are deeper and stronger without being outlined before – not even a vague outline, though I know in my mind how they’re going to end, all along. It’s the way there that can feel like someone else drew the map.
It is very hard for me to give myself over to this sort of shamanistic trance, this divine madness. I’m a rational woman. I’m more than a little bit of a control freak. And I’m fairly sure I have a consciousness.
If my job were anything else at all, I’d just claim that this never happened. I’d scoff at people talking about it. And I would SERIOUSLY doubt the stuff written this way is better.
But I am a writer. And the divine madness seems to work. And so, I force the rational woman to close her eyes – or, as seems to work better, to be short on slep and beset with other work – and then… I jump in. And I let the muses guide me.