Not too long ago, I went to see author Andrew Davidson speak about his amazing first novel, The Gargoyle. Gracious and funny, he spoke with great intelligence about many things, including the process and journey he navigated to write his epic tome.
Eight years, he said. Eight years it took him, putting pen to paper daily, to create his book. He lived with the characters, he told us; he lived and breathed and literally conversed with the characters for eight years while they told him their story. He was an observer as the fiction unfolded, acting as scribe while his characters told him what to write.
I know many authors say that their stories marinated for many years before they were able to write them, but Andrew worked on his book faithfully. For eight years. He even wrote a diary in character, and it wasn’t even a main character. He wrote a diary for a secondary character; a diary that he never intended to publish or include as any part of the story. He did it to delve into the character, to ensure that she was speaking in an authentic voice, congruent throughout the pages and completely aware of her motivations.
As far as I know, Andrew Davidson was not writing under any publication promises, advances or deadlines that he was obligated to adhere to. He allowed his process to be personal, creative and natural.
Miram Toews stresses that her books begin as little jotted journal entries, and that once she acknowledges a theme that won’t go away, a character, and then a tale develops.
Anne Marie MacDonald says that she wrote her first novel in fits and spurts, and that writing was an exercise in trying to ‘…coax these disparate, floating bits of cosmic debris’ into something cohesive.
I am fascinated by stories like this, because I am cultivating one of my own.
10 years ago, I spent 10 months in the Middle East. I travelled for a while, then lived on a Kibbutz in Israel for 8 months. I have never written more than a passing anecdote of my time there, but for 10 years, I have relayed the stories to friends, family, myself. And now, it seems, they are begging to be put to paper. Whatever the spark that was needed to light the fire under the writing of these stories, I seem to have found it. As fiction, the tales are inspired by my time on the Kibbutz and the people I spent every hour of every day toiling alongside of, partying with, loving.
My own exercise in writing this manuscript has been a hybrid of sorts; I move from frenzied, non-stop, totally inspired bursts of story writing to out and out fatigue, unsure I want to continue.
I don’t know if the stories will ever become a book, or if the book will ever get published, but I have finally begun a process of my own, and I am excited to travel down/across/through the paths that are appearing. It is doubtful that I will be able to dedicate eight solid years to the telling of my tale, but that voice, the one that Andrew Davidson and Miriam Toews and so many other writers I have read about, stress that they must hear and heed before they can begin? Well, she is finally whispering in my ear. And I know that if I pay attention and listen very closely, she’ll have a lot to tell me.