Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Reading my old journals recently also prompted me to look deeper into a lot of the writing note files I mentioned too. If I’m working on a novel, I’m keeping a note file on it, and sometimes the note file is longer than the book itself.
I realized in going through this old stuff that I’ve only written a handful of the novels I conceived. Some of the failed ones have note files that are only four or five pages long. That’s a good sign that the idea fell apart almost as soon as I started digging into it. But a lot of the ideas are pretty good, and I’m not always sure why I abandoned them. For a few I got deep into the writing and might have even finished a first draft before grasping that the whole conceit was wrong somehow and needed a complete revamping. Not always in the mood to do that. Feels better to start something new.
Also, if you wait too long you’ll find that some other writer has done something too similar. I had one I was calling “Airman,” in which a guy rigs up a lawn chair with hot air balloons (based on a few true stories) and goes on a crazy flight full of adventures, but I waited too long and it became the Disney film, Up.
I had one going about a young illegal immigrant coming up from Mexico, but then T. Coraghessan Boyle wrote The Tortilla Curtain. I was working on a slave narrative with an interesting angle when first, Twelve Years A Slave came out, then Django. Now we have The Birth of A Nation and The Underground Railroad. I’m outnumbered, outclassed, and white.
I never delete my note files, though, because you just never know. My next novel, maybe coming this spring, was born way back in 1994 and has gone through so many iterations and revisions that it’s almost like my now-adult child. I’m glad I never disowned it.
Unlike reading my youthful journals, flipping through these project development notes is a lot more satisfying. I like how I hammered out details, found ways to give characters more depth, and worked my way through plots like a tunnel digger. And how often the novel came to me almost completely worked out so that all I had to do was keep track of things as I wrote. More often than I would have expected. Occasional Soulmates and Yesterday Road both arrived that way.
Take my advice. Hang onto your old notes. When you’re stuck or suffering from writer’s block, they come in handy as inspiration. But they can also make for satisfying rainy day reading, when you have a hankering to see what you were thinking about a few years back.
You might wind up feeling pretty good about yourself.