Sunday, October 20, 2013

story longings

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak? - Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

As I raced to the end of my first draft this week, I was thinking a lot about how this particular story is so much different than the last one. The last novel I wrote was a very personal and intimate thing. Writing it felt like walking through the forest at night, barefoot, with only the light of the moon to guide me. (That's actually exactly how the story opens: with my protagonist walking barefoot through the woods in the middle of the night.) In the two years that I've spent writing and rewriting that story, there have been a lot of wrong turns and a lot of lostness and a lot of fear.

This novel (so far) is completely different. Writing the first draft of this novel was like playing a huge game of chess in my head. It’s a much bigger story. It’s political and romantic and the stakes are sky high. It isn’t sensitive and gentle the way the first one was. In fact, I might even call it ruthless. Merciless. And as I think back on the past year or so, that makes a lot of sense. My sensitive/gentle novel began as a way of coping with losing something precious. It was my way of clinging to a person and a place that was disappearing while simultaneously learning to let go.

This novel is much more about what I long for. Because I work at a bookstore, because I review books and interview authors and host their events, I end up reading a lot of books that I must read. This isn’t a bad thing. If anything, it forces me out of my comfort zone and into stories that are very different from the ones I’m used to. But it can get exhausting and reading can start to feel like an obligation. Writing this novel was a way out of that, a way for me not to be burned out on stories. Instead of reading five books and *maybe* falling in love with one, writing this novel has been a way of making sure I'm always in one that I love/want/need/crave. It's my way of fulfilling the story-longings inside me.

Sometimes I forget that writing is a living, breathing thing; that the story (or the poem, etc.) not only transforms you and feeds you, but is transformed and fed because of you. Erin Bow in her interview with the Quill & Quire last month said that she thinks she writes what she will ultimately end up needing. And I wonder if there's truth in that for every writer.

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