Aside from a few general principles, there is no one way you have to do this. -Brandon Sanderson
I didn’t come to Thailand with the intention of writing a book. But these things happen. Looking back on it, I’ve written a book everywhere I’ve lived for the past nine years. There was The Magarisse, my first book that I self published when I was still in high school. Then Nameless, which I wrote at Binghamton University, then an untitled third book at my first apartment at Rutgers University, and then The Bard’s Cult, written at my second Rutgers apartment. So perhaps it was inevitable that a book would evolve here in Thailand.
And it has been an evolution. It began very naturally.
You may know that JK Rowling got the idea for the Harry Potter series while sitting on a train. The story goes that Harry and Hagrid came to her fully formed, and by the end of the train ride she had a decent outline for the entire series.
Olympus Mons (tentative title for the project I’m working on now) happened similarly, although not so magically. I had been struggling over ideas for yet another rewrite of The Bard’s Cult when a conversation we farangs had over dinner sparked an idea. This was very early on—perhaps two weeks into my time here, perhaps less. That night I couldn’t fall asleep. I was thinking about it the idea all night.I’ve found this is an important part of my process. It’s like a test. Every time I get a good idea it keeps me awake at night. If the idea still excites me in the morning, it’s passed the test. If not, it’s no good.
After Olympus Mons passed the test, it spent about a month forming in my mind—gestating. By the beginning of July I was ready to start outlining. I spent that whole month doing research and printing out articles, writing and rewriting
an outline until I had the entire book in fifteen pages.
This part was quite different from my usual process. When I usually write a book, I write from a summary that’s maybe one page long, and let the details come to me as they will. What this really means is that I spent a lot of time reading back over what I’ve already written to make sure I don’t contradict myself. And I usually fail at that a lot of the time.
Brandon Sanderson, my favorite writer, has a theory that all authors are either gardeners or architects. Gardeners start with a seed and let a novel grow from it. Architects labor over a ‘blueprint,’ or outline, and use it to make sure the resulting novel is to their specifications. For my first four books, I was a gardener. For Olympus Mons, I’m an architect.
By the end of July I had a thick binder full of research, chapter outlines, character descriptions, and notes. I probably could have spent another six months doing research and worldbuilding (Designing the setting of a novel. Authors of all genres do this, whether they’re creating a fantasy world, or a fictional town in the real world), but at that point I was ready to begin.
I wrote the first two chapters at Wat Pa Nan Lourne in the company of monks like Narong and nuns like Kingkeao.
Because my pre-writing phase was so different from usual, I decided my writing phase ought to be different, too. It felt right to change things up. So rather than just typing everything up as quickly as I can, I turned to the good old-fashioned pencil and paper.
I’ve found that writing the first version of my chapters on paper has forced me to slow down my thoughts—to be a little more careful about word choice and sentence structure. I’m still excited to get the words on the page, of course. After the chapters are handwritten I go through and type them up. I don’t consider the first draft of a chapter complete until it’s typed. Typing it from a handwritten copy lets my review my writing, change it where necessary, add scenes from the outline that I may have skimmed over during the handwriting, etc.
Another thing I’ve been doing differently is sending the chapters out! People who have known me while I was writing other books may know that I’m very private about my work. I usually don’t share anything with anybody until I have a complete draft of a novel, and then it only goes to a couple of people. So far I’ve sent the first chapter of Olympus Mons to a few friends, including an old supervisor, my latest and greatest creative writing professor, and of course my parents.
I’ve handwritten eight chapters of Olympus Mons so far, and typed seven of those. My outline has twelve chapters. My hope was to finish a first draft before I leave for India on October 1st, but September will be a busy month, and that simply may not happen. But that’s okay! There is time.
More on everything to come!