Thursday, April 15, 2010

The "pretend novel" notebook

This week's post on Brothers Karamazov will be delayed, due to a spate of paying work, plus our upcoming trip to Yosemite (only two days, alas). In the meantime, I will provide this brief nugget of writing advice, courtesy of Ian McEwan.

At City Arts earlier this week, an audience member asked him about his process for writing Atonement. He said the process was basically slow, intermittent, and confusing, which is reassuring, given how tightly interwoven the finished novel seems. But he also mentioned that most of his novels begin in a journal, where he writes paragraphs or pages for novels that may never be written. In these beginnings, he tells himself he's just pretending to start a novel, just playing. Atonement began with a few paragraphs about a young woman in a country house, a gardener whom she both desires and wishes would go away, and an expensive vase being broken. McEwan didn't do anything with the story for some time, but the images kept coming back to him. Later he began to see the scene through the eyes of a child (the future Briony) who misinterprets it. That shift in point of view opened the story up and enabled it to continue.

I like the idea of a "pretend" notebook. The paragraphs could end up being flash fiction, short stories, or novels--or they could be nothing at all. The point, as always, is to take the pressure off, and begin your work with play.

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