I’m writing a verse novel. It’s not going well.
Actually, I take that back. It might be going well. But it’s not going quickly.
The way I usually work is to begin with the end in mind. I write a short page about what will happen in the novel. Then I spend a couple of months working on a detailed outline, one that includes every scene that will appear in the book. That way, when I sit down to work on my first draft, all I have to do is refer to the outline to see what to write each day. For me, the outline eases the burden, and cuts down on my terror about facing a blank page.
When I went back to school to pursue a Master’s degree in writing for children and young adults (at Vermont College of Fine Arts, thanks for asking), I decided that I wasn’t paying all of this money in order to simply do the things I already knew how to do. So, for my first project, I chose something way out of my comfort zone. I chose a form I was unfamiliar with. I didn’t do an outline. I wanted to hear what the characters had to say, and work with the form before I became bogged down in the plot. So I started writing poems. I discovered that my characters had a lot to say. And there were more of them than I anticipated.
I also discovered that it’s very difficult to make those characters focus and take meaningful action. Talk about blah de blah. I could make them talk for pages. After several months, I’m feeling a little desperate. My work doesn’t reflect the number of hours I have spent staring out the window, wracking my brain to figure out what’s going to happen. (Anything?) But there is good news: I’ve written a few (few!) poems that I think are good. And I’m excited by these characters–they’re different. They’re fresh to me. So I’m still resisting the outline urge.
My uncle tells me that you often have to go through many ideas in order to get to that one good idea. I’m learning to be patient. This may not be the most efficient way to work, but I’m not convinced that efficiency and poetry would make good partners. We’ll see….