And suddenly I want to write a new book.
There is something very treacherous about writing stream-of-consciousness that I did not really touch upon in my last rant about how great it is and how I wouldn’t trade it for any other process.
And that is the fact that, when ideas come to me in that stream, they sometimes pass me by without my being able to so much as glance at them before they are gone forever.
A lot of the time I end up writing them into the same document as my draft – which I would say is probably bad, though nothing that can’t be made up for. Sometimes the ideas make sense for the story, at least at the time I come up with them. Others, though, I just find fascinating and shiny and want to play with them for a while, so I snatch them up and put them in the closest receptacle to hand: the body of my manuscript. And this is another reason why I think note-taking is a good idea at any part of the writing process.
Some of these ideas end up shaping a fair bit of the narrative of the manuscript, and it can be hard to extract them – or even impossible, if they’re rooted deep enough. Well, no, I shouldn’t say impossible, because of course that’s a lie. You can change anything. But as for whether it’s a good idea or not – well, that’s up to the individual to determine.
Once it starts becoming evident that something like this has happened, though, and the story has been steered down a certain path because of my indulging a spontaneous urge I had to jam a new idea into my established set of mechanical workings because it seemed neat in the moment, and that path ends up being – as is quite often the case – something that actually stops events from taking place in the way I’d wanted them to, I resort to hanging lampshades.
This is what I shall term the Hansel and Gretel Approach to writing a first draft. I go wherever I want, on whatever whim or fancy takes me there, without inhibition, but also always leave a trail of unmistakeable evidence behind me so that I know what I did in the past to inform my situation in the present, and can come back to it in the future, if you want or need to. If I screw something up in my story – and that happens a lot with stream-of-consciousness writing – then I make it as obvious as I possibly can to my future self, the editor, that this has indeed happened, and I do it with lampshades.
For instance: if I happen to make my main character reluctant to do something because I feel that it’s in keeping with her personality at the time, and then later on realise that it’s choked off a very natural-feeling direction to take the story in further down the line, I try to make it very obvious that this is what’s happened. I won’t realise it until the blockage happens, but when it happens, I need to sprinkle some glowing, radioactive breadcrumbs to point it out to my future self. Because if my future self is anything like my past and present self, he has the attention-span of a goldfish with ADHD.
To be honest, revision is a very different process mentally to writing, and so I’m picking up a lot more than what I’d even intentionally tried to lampshade to myself while writing it and discovering how I’d kneecapped myself unwittingly simply because rather than working with a veritable flood of ideas, unpredictable and distracting and inspiring, revision is, while still very generative in its own way, far more static, and much more of my mental faculties can be devoted to analysing the placement of ideas as I’m not (as) caught-up in trying to determine where or if to place them as they smash into me like particles in the Large Hadron Collider and then rocket away again at the speed of light.
I think trying to write stream-of-consciousness without some kind of contingency plan to compensate for the massive overbalance that occurs is folly; I still want a coherent story by the end of this process, so using lampshades as landmarks helps me to see the forest after I’ve finished messing about in the trees. It provides some very informal structure to something that was created with a dynamic, improvised blueprint – a guide to what was done and how it shaped the end product. And that kind of information I find absolutely vital.
Especially today, upon discovering that I had set up this brilliant and organic-feeling interaction between two of the characters and then never followed through with it, and to my delight, hanging there was a lampshade, in fact several, just to let me know. I cannot describe just how helpful that is – helpful not just to me as the editor, but also to me as the writer, because it means that I can still write whatsoever I please in the moment, so long as I keep tabs on what it is that I have in fact written, and how that has affected everything that I wrote afterwards. To the best of my ability, of course.