Writing a novel is like having a whole additional family added to your life. You have to keep track of what's going on with everyone, how they're getting along with each other, what they're feeling and needing, what they've been waiting to tell you .
Just as in "real life" the characters in a novel are people full of surprises. They know why they do what they do, and they may or may not explain it right away. They know how they are related to the other characters. They know the reason they are in your story.
The gift of my story, and I don't know whether it always works this way, is that it just keeps coming. It comes pouring into my imagination. Sometimes it makes me laugh out loud. Sometimes it makes me cry. But it rarely frustrates me, and it never makes me feel stuck. There's always more.
It can be so surprising or hilarious or sad that I feel I have to tell someone. But I hold back, for now at least, because Stephen King said to. Stephen King said to write the first draft with the door closed, and the second draft with the door open. The first draft isn't finished, yet. It will let me know.
Here's what Ann Patchett says about writing fiction:
I came to understand that fiction writing is like duck hunting. You
go to the right place at the right time with the right dog. You get
into the water before dawn, wearing a little protective gear, then
you stand behind some reeds and wait for the story to present
itself. This is not to say you are passive. You choose the place and the
day. You pick the gun and the dog. You have the desire to blow
the duck apart for reasons that are entirely your own. But you have
to be willing to accept not what you wanted to have happen,
but what happens. You have to write the story you find in the
circumstances you've created, because more often than not the ducks
don't show up. The hunters in the next blind begin to argue,
and you realize they're in love. You see a snake swimming
in your direction. Your dog begins to shiver and whine, and you start
to think about this gun that belonged to your father. By the time you
get out of the marsh you will have written a novel so devoid
of ducks it will shock you.
You will not be able to determine ahead of time what is going to happen. All you can do is listen and be patient, and willingly be interrupted when it's time to write it all down. The story and the characters will make unusual demands. They will be adamant. You have to trust that what happens happens for a reason. Something that doesn't seem important at the time will reveal itself to be an essential part of the story. Your heart will pound when it all comes together. You'll be glad that you are the one who gets to do this, because really you can no longer picture your life without it.
My novel began in about 2002, when a woman showed up on her side porch, and stood there shielding her eyes from the glare of the afternoon sun. Her name is Rella. I don't know where she came from, or how I know that, exactly, but I know she wants to tell her story, and she chose me. We got so far and then she spent several years, about ten, in a box in the bottom of my closet. Moved a few of times, but always to another closet. Well, she's out of the closet. And that's all I'm saying for now.