I’m starting a new novel. A chapter book, to be precise. To be even more precise, a follow-up to Duck for a Day, whose characters I love altogether too much to leave alone.
When I wrote Duck for a Day, I knew it needed to be around 8000 words (ish). So of course, I wrote 15000. Then I pruned it to 12000. Then I sent it to my long-suffering editor, and she wrote back to me and said, altogether unexpectedly, “I love this, but it really needs to be around 8000 words.”
Eventually, we got there.
On the weekend, I went down to Kakamigahara, in Gifu Prefecture. I was doing research for my novel, The Last Wild Thing, but while I was there, I was able to catch up with one of my host families, from my time as a high-school exchange student. In the usual spirit of Japanese hospitality, they treated me to many things, among them participation in a pottery class, a hobby my host father has recently taken an interest in.
When the class began, I was asked what I wanted to make. During the class, it was suggested that I begin working the clay only once I had a clear idea of what I was aiming for. After the class, I was asked what I had made.
Thinking about all of this later, I realised something interesting – that without thinking about it, I had approached the clay exactly as I approach the writing of a novel. That I had set out without any idea of where it was I was heading. That when I had stopped and tried to be ‘sensible’ and do some advance planning I had been completely at a loss. That there was no way I could make a plan without actually beginning the process. That what I needed to do was begin, to get my hands moving and the wheel turning and see what happened.
In my ‘Writing’ folder there is a ‘Junior Fiction’ folder. In my ‘Junior Fiction’ folder there is a ‘Duck for a Day’ folder.
This is all well and good. This is the sign of an organised mind, an organised computer, a manageable filing system.
But what is inside the ‘Duck for a Day’ folder?
Izzie continues to resist me. She wants to go this way, then that, then back the other way. Remember those old Choose Your Own Adventure Books (if you open the door, turn to page 18; if you turn around and go back to the hotel, turn to page 27, and so on). I was always very reluctant to commit to what might be unwise decisions, and would keep a finger in every page, so I could go back to key points and undo the choices that had led to my untimely death (I also used to make massive charts of which paths led where and all the complex ways in which they intersected, but that’s another book-geek story altogether).