Putting On My Pants

Writing and stories are magic. And when I explain this to people, I see the look of confusion in their faces. I often concede that it sounds strange, but true. Because writing can sometimes feel like I am tapping into something much deeper than my own mind.

The first step when I write a novel is to develop an idea. For O Negative, I was inspired by the blood shortage in India and how it had created a black market for human blood. I had an idea for a system where people got in debt with the mob and paid back their loans with blood. A collector who worked for the mob would be the main character and a little girl with rare blood would be the moral dilemma. When I wrote the first lines of the first draft, I knew nothing more.

So, when I have an idea and some characters, I start writing. This process is known in the writing world as pantsing, or flying by the seat of your pants. This is opposed to developing a plot and characters before writing the first draft. When I begin, I don’t know how a story will end. I don’t know who the main character is or much of his or her back story (other than one or two sentences). I am, for lack of a better description, making things up as I go along.

During this process I am asking myself two questions: 1) what is the next step this character would take and 2) is what I am writing true.

Number one is easy. As I write, the characters become clearer. In O Negative, Cole and Sam’s personalities came through sharp from the beginning. Who they were and how they would behave was sharp the moment they appeared on the page. And so I continued to ask what they would do next and so the story progressed. But how can I be sure I am writing the characters correctly? That’s where question number two comes in.

In On Writing, Stephen King describes writing as uncovering a fossil in the ground. He doesn’t believe writing is an act of pure creation so much as discovering a preexisting story. This is where it sounds strange to people who have never experienced it. “Aren’t you the one writing?” they might think. “Don’t you control it?”

The answer is yes—but mostly no. It doesn’t feel like control. One third of the way through O Negative, I introduce a character named Lindy. Lindy didn’t exist when I started writing O Negative, but she grew into the second protagonist of the book. This happened because as soon as I had the idea of her, and started writing her, it felt right. It felt true. When I am deep into a first draft, I get this internal sense, this gut reaction, that what I am writing is true to the story. Like I am moving in the right direction. And when I am in that groove, it’s like flying. When I deviate from it, my momentum crashes like slamming my foot on a car brake going 70 down the highway.

This is what I mean when I say writing is magic. Because it feels like I am not so much a writer, but a recorder of a moment. That the story is this living thing and I am helping birth it.

And when it’s happening, and the story is unfolding in front of me, there isn’t anything in the world like it.


What I’m reading now:

IT by Stephen King

The Essential Kierkegaard by Søren Kierkegaard edited by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong

Reddit: College Football (I spend way too much time here)

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