“Writing fiction is intense. It’s a drug you don’t swallow. You just sit there hallucinating and jotting down your hallucination and then you call it work. It is a socially acceptable form of madness. — Matt Haig
A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to (try) to write fiction. Specifically, I wanted to write a fantasy novel based on West Africa. Back then, I was fascinated with world-building, turning my interest and years in the region into something analogous but different. I started at the macro-level, some societies; their customs, languages, histories, myths, religion. I had four of five at one point, but now only three. But I had no
characters or any story.
A few months before National Novel Writing Month, I wrote a blog post about it (on the first iteration of Among the Stones, mercifully no longer online).
Instead of diving head first into a novel, I would take a year a write a few novellas, one for each of the four main characters in my head, to introduce them and set them on a crash course of what would surely become an epic novel. (Ha.)
I would have time to write on the road after I finished teaching in Mauritania. Over the months, characters started to emerge and become so lifelike in my head. A story slowly popped itself into existence. But still there were very little actual words on paper. I had maps, outlines, character sheets, bits and bobs of ideas, an infusion inspired points; Islam, Afro-Portuguese colonialism, entheogenic plants visions, etc.
But still nothing. NaNoWriMo came and went. And another one. Nothing.
I finished my trip without much writing but more inspired than ever. I returned to my home state of California, the concrete suburbs with a Starbuck’s and McDonald’s on practically every corner. It was a culture shock. I wasn’t hiking, seeing brutal Nature up close and personal like glaciers, lakes, rivers. Then I moved to a city in Germany and again, nothing. No time, no peace of mind, no writing.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.“ — Ira Glass
By now, dear reader, you might have guessed that all these moves, environments, living situations are just excuses. The point is I was, and still am scared to get my ass in the chair, write to the best of my ability (which isn’t very great), and be okay with that first terrible draft.
But wallāhi, that ends this year. I am in a peaceful village in Galicia, I have an income, and I have an incredible ability to wake up early and get started. So it’s now or never. Which is way I am committing myself by writing this blog post. During November, please hold me accountable.
I’m scrapping the novella ideas and going straight into a 100,000 word novel, 50,000 or which will be written in the month of November. My idea is an amalgamation of the Mandé hero (PDF) and old western novels set in 18th century Upper Guinea.
And after, there are so many places I want to take these stories. I have an urge to stay in this world with these characters for a hundred years. At one point in Mexico, I filled my notebook with a trajectory of three trilogies and twelve novellas. That might be overdoing it. But I’m an extreme person. Yeah, sometimes I’m just too much.
Here’s to the next week of compiling everything I’ve written down and starting at midnight on November 1. For anyone interested in also participating, I’d love an accountabili-buddy. Give me a shout.