“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” — Forrest Gump
In the iconic movie, Forrest Gump, the title character uses the box of chocolates quote to explain the whimsical nature of his life as he describes the many things that had happened to him. I love the movie and have actually watched it multiple times, which is something I usually do not do (I have a strange habit of only watching a movie once). This quote came to mind recently as I finished up my latest novel and started the first read-through of the long and arduous editing process.
Most of my writing ideas strike in a flash of fancy usually when I’m doing something that is not conducive to recording my thoughts (e.g. running, showering, driving, etc.), so I turn them over in my head and try to develop them further until I can record them in my notebook. This notebook has far more ideas than I will ever be able to write unless I retire from my day job right now and begin a life as a writing recluse like J.D. Salinger, so the ideas sit on the electronic page of my notebook until I select them for my next project.
Once they are selected, I usually put together a rough outline to guide the arc of the story, but I’m never truly beholden to the outline. As I’m writing, I change things as the mood takes me. A character may begin life as a grown man when the idea first pops into my head, but may hit the page as a little girl by the time I actually write the story. Scenes, settings, and characters are all fluid until I complete the first draft.
It takes me about six months to finish a first draft because I only write about five hours a week – an hour each weekday morning. I share that hour with other writing work such as short stories and posts for this blog, so there’s even less time devoted to the draft than the five hours per week. Occasionally, I find some extra time to write, but for the most part, it’s five hours max. A lot can change over six months. For example, my entire mood about the project can change. Sometimes, I lose momentum, start another project, or simply bog down with the story line.
The other factor that affects my novels is that I don’t write sequentially and I often move chapters around after I’ve written them. For my latest project, The Fire Within, which just entered the editing phase, I wrote the first and last chapters in the beginning and filled in the rest over the course of seven months. Even the middle chapters were written in a haphazard order. I had no idea what I was going to get when I finally finished the novel and read it from beginning to end. Would it flow properly? Would it convey the emotion I was trying to capture? Would readers like it? These questions still remain open as I’m doing my first read-through.
In the end, my novels are comparable to Gump’s box of chocolates. I never know what I’m going to get until I do that first reading in the editing process. I like the element of surprise. It makes writing all the more fun.