A Novel Idea
This post may be a little sleepy, but only because I am a little sleepy. (Well I actually started it yesterday, so I'm not sleepy anymore. Yay!)
See, a bloody fire alarm went off at 3:30am this morning, rousing me and my roommates from bed. We trudged downstairs, spent twenty minutes looking murderous at the rude awakening on what is our equivalent of a Sunday night, before eventually being let back up to our rooms. They, those lucky devils, fell asleep straight away and snoozed peacefully until the (actual) morning. I, on the other hand, sat wide awake in bed for hours before my jet lagged friend hit me up for some early breakfast.
Anyway, that elaborate story was just to say that I had hoped to write a post today but that my brain isn't functioning quite as I wish it to be. But I spent the hours between 4 and 7am writing my novel – which is generally not a time anyone wishes to be awake unless they're drunk off their face at a party – and I thought this could be a neat little time to talk about it.
For those that haven't picked up on my liberally sprinkled hints, I am indeed writing a novel. It's for a class I'm taking with a professor I adore, and thus far I'm really enjoying the process. Every week we submit 3000 words for our classmates to pull apart (I mean give constructive feedback) and then we rewrite that section. Although I've written in many different forms before, academically, professionally and for fun, this is my first time of giving something longer a go.
In all honesty I never would have thought that I could. I find it impossible to sketch out plot: whenever I'm writing I just let the words flow and see where it takes me. To do that with a novel sounded ambitious at best, but most probably just plain ludicrous. Luckily I was inspired by the incredible author Naomi Munaweera when I heard her speak in Sri Lanka. She spoke of her style being one of writing blindly, with a quote that accurately surmised my usual situation.
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” - E.L Doctorow
And so I have started to drive. In a bizarre twist of fate the ending of the story actually came to me whilst I was running the other day, and so I kind of know where's it's heading. But how I'm going to get there remains a mystery, and it's thrilling to watch it unfold.
So what is my story about? Well I describe it to people as "sex in the city meets mental health". It's a tale of two girls living in New York, and seeing how they react to boys, bosses and myriad minor stressors that challenge their emotional wellbeing. It is sort of autobiographical, albeit more of what I want my life to look like in three years. The main character is both me and not me at once, and it's a bizarre experience to watch her emerge in my writing.
In fact I have decided to anchor each character to someone I know in real life, although many of them are becoming composites of multiple people. I have just introduced a character who looks like I guy I met in New York this summer, speaks like a friend I have in Abu Dhabi and shares an argument with the main character based upon a debate I had with my roommate just a week ago. This helps me create dialogue and personalities that are believable and according to my class it's working. I'm nervous to show anyone I know my words because I worry that they'll not like how they think they're represented, but it isn't them. It's a sprinkle of them mixed with a dash of someone else and thrown into an entirely separate situation. It's a recipe of real life transformed with the fun of fiction.
I think what I'm enjoying most is having the space to articulate the experiences I have with mental health. The first chapter begins with a panic attack, and somehow in writing the words I gained a power over my experiences that I have never had before. None of the characters who are struggling are shown as weak, but instead I'm getting to demonstrate that someone can be anxious and vibrant and scared and passionate. It's fascinating to see my classmates discuss the main character's mood swings and motivations. It's bringing more conversation to mental health, and I love it.
Anyway that's a little summary of how my story is going for anyone who is interested. If you've ever thought about writing a novel I urge you to dive in. This novel will probably never go further than a classroom in Abu Dhabi, but the process itself is so worthwhile and I'm glad I've been given an opportunity to grab it.
Oh, and I wrote about the bloody fire alarm. Because who doesn't want to articulate their (real life) anger at being awake through a very pissed off protagonist?