Way back in September 2013, I started writing a novel. I was on a business trip to Chicago, had gone out early to meet a friend for dinner and totally screwed up the time I was going to meet him. With more than an hour to kill, I decided to go to an old favorite bar of my wife and mine when we had lived in Chicago from 2009 to 2011.
I walked into the Huettenbar, a classic and dark beer bar in Lincoln Square, and grabbed a stool at the back-end of the bar. I ordered a hefeweizen, pulled out a new notebook, a pen and started writing. Fueled with bits of inspiration from years of ideas (and honestly, a great tasting beer), I pounded out a few pages of the beginning of a story. It was called The Shadow of the Mountain, and it was inspired by a short poem I’d written earlier.
In the shadow of the mountain the air is cold and dry.
The grass is green with a touch of life, but clearly at the end.
Where the sun doesn’t shine life is minimal, but what exists, thrives.
Rocks are strewn, plants are bare, but animals can be seen around the bend.
In the shadow of the mountain is where it all began.
The Men of the Stone hid in the dark.
Between the cracks, the caves filled with plans.
They waited with patience, their determination stark.
The Sun Men unaware and blissfully so.
The Sun Men, happy, healthy and unprepared.
The Men of the Stone lie in wait, waiting to go.
For what lies in the shadow of the mountain, the Sun Men should be scared.
I wrote a few pages and then hit a roadblock nearly immediately. I’d prepared a poem that told mere hints of a story, but I didn’t know where it really went, where it should go or how to get there. I needed a timeline to be built in order to provide the details I’d began to create. I actually started writing the timeline, creating notes and drawing the character’s lives into that timeline. But, as I started making this fictional world, the more questions I created for myself.
In my previous post about writing a novel, I posted a link that said when writing you should know your end point. You know your goal and where you’ll end up. Essentially that the path to that end point is the unknown. In fact, it was a rule from Pixar.
Ultimately, I think it really is just one approach to writing a story. Maybe just an idea is enough to inspire someone to create a vast world and transcribe it to the page. Perhaps a different writer spends years outlining, developing and curating this world before putting it onto a page. There’s no correct method. It’s whatever method works for you as a writer – and I’ll believe this until someone can show me empirical evidence to the contrary.
But, here we are in 2016. I’ve completed the first draft of my first novel – and it isn’t The Shadow of the Mountain. I never got past the roadblock I hit in 2013. I did however, write the first draft of a novel called To Be There Not Here. My method, which I plan to detail in future posts, was a bit of Pixar’s method, a bit of my own and a bit made up on the fly.
The lessons? There were plenty of them, and will provide plenty of content to share in the near future. Until then, a question for anyone reading this – how have you fought through writer’s block before and what got you through it?