statue of Mercury
Mercury by Bart Busschots

I am a Saturn who dreams of being a Mercury, and everything I write reflects these two impulses

-Italo Calvino

When I started writing the novel that I’m currently working on, I decided to give myself a year to plan. I noticed that a lot of the books I really admire took a long time to write. If the novels I like to read most are the ones that steeped in their authors’ minds for a long time, it makes sense to me that I won’t create a book that’s up to my standards until I slow down and allow my process to move at a snail’s pace, too.

It looks like I won’t actually take myself up on that offer, really. It’s only been three months, and I’ve already started writing, but I’m holding this progress loosely, considering it all to be part of the planning year. I’ve thrown out six thousand words already and will probably throw out many more.

I didn’t realize how subversive the decision to take a planning year was until I started telling people about it. What have I been doing since June, if I’m not sitting at my computer typing madly? Staring out the window at coffee shops? A little. Sleeping. Some. Obviously, I’ve been running an online magazine, and that’s no small amount of work, but there’s been a lot of writing, too. 

In the past three months, I’ve nearly filled a two inch binder with planning notes. Almost none of the words in that binder will end up in the book, but it’s been worth it. I know my characters. I know what they look like. I know that my protagonist tries to diffuse conflict with ridiculous humor. I know that most of the book will be made of the universe of things that can happen to three people alone in the woods with a truck. I know what questions this book is asking and who I’m writing for and what (to me) this book is really about. I also know that I will only have the space in one book to cover a fraction of the things I want to write about. I suspect that I’ll be returning to this binder for the rest of my life.

I have tried over and over to dive into a book without knowing any of these things and let the words carry me along. I want to write the way I travel, throwing my bags in the car and heading out in a direction because I’ve never been there before, just to see what’s there.

But I don’t work that way.

No matter how much I wish I was a gardener, I’m beginning to suspect that I’m actually an architect*. While the gardeners are off running, I sit at my desk making plans and drawing maps and watching them fly by with awe.

*Thanks for the analogy, George RR Martin.