Dowsing With My Butt (On Writing a Novel by the Seat of My Pants)

An amazing photograph from the estate of A. H. Wheeler, Oakland, Maine

(2 minute read)

My mind is quietly being blown. I am about 11,500 words into the novel I am writing for National Novel Writing Month. I kind of fooled myself into doing this. I waited until the last minute, didn’t tell anyone, and didn’t think about the commitment I was making, pulling a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” on myself. I make decisions like that sometimes when I’m driving and can’t decide whether to make that stop or take that road. When I get to the intersection I just let the vehicle make the turn, or not. That’s how I did WriMo. Call it dowsing with your butt. If you find yourself sitting and writing, well, I guess you’re doing WriMo.

Here is a brief, incomplete list of my other amazements:

I’m amazed that I am writing everyday, to a word count, when just a couple of weeks ago I was actively not writing, every single day.

I’m amazed that I have that much to say about something that didn’t exist 8 days ago. Truthfully, it’s even weirder than that. I actually don’t have something to say, ever, when I sit down every day. The ideas, these little inklings of notions, are just kind of waggling a few fingers and saying, oh, hey, over here, and I am writing them down. Some are cool and fun; some are stupid. I have no idea if they are stringing together cohesively. I can’t worry about that right now. Isn’t that freeing?

I’m amazed that every day I encounter the idea that I can’t write it down unless it’s perfect, thought out, water-tight and well-crafted. And I’m amazed that when I just write down the thing I am thinking and rejecting, thinking and rejecting, thinking and rejecting, everything flows much better and I get to a place that is decidedly Zone-ish. And when I re-read, that thing I wrote is okay.

I’m amazed at how much there is to know about how novels are put together, how plot works, what details add to the reader’s experience, what to leave in, what to leave out (tip o’the hat to Bob Seger). Julia Cameron, in The Right To Write, suggests that, if we didn’t have such mystique around the idea of being a writer, anyone could make a novel much like amateur carpenters make bookcases and for the same reason: It’s fun. I’m amazed that when I come up for air, glassy-eyed and stiff, even though I don’t know much about how to do it well, I am having fun. I am making a bookcase. It doesn’t have to be a work of art.

Last in my list of amazements: How is it that in one moment I can know exactly what to say about something I’ve never experienced, and in the next I am stopped cold by not knowing a key fact about something equally unfamiliar? I can’t help but draw parallels between that and how I live my life, where I feel I must be perfect and quietly walk away because I can’t be, and where I feel free to just make something up because I like it, and it’s fun.

But I’m not getting into that now. I have 1700 words to write.

0 thoughts on “Dowsing With My Butt (On Writing a Novel by the Seat of My Pants)

  1. Today I am “actively not writing”, and it’s OK. Now, please enlighten me about that amazing picture. What IS that string of critters (fish? possums?) on the porch of a Wheeler camp? There’s gotta be a story there!

  2. I’m so jealous…and you know what that means. I have felt like you describer here in the past and would like to again. I DO know what that means…the action comes first and later the feeling. I’m exploring blogging and just signed up for WordPress and the poem a day for part of December. I’m also in the Canandaigua Writers group. Been journalling but feels dry.

    1. All I can tell you is there’s nothing like the feeling that someone is waiting for your blog post to help you get over the hurdle and just reach out. It really is about connecting with others in a very controlled and somewhat safe way. So, still looking forward to yours. It’s just a big experiment! Again, thanks for reading and commenting. Miss you!

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