Quick breakdown of my writing process:
A character will come first. A "person" with a story. Not fully, usually just a ghost of a person in search of their corporeal existence, which is what I'm supposed to give them: flesh and story. I have to immediately get words on the screen in order to make the characters real for me, even if it's only preliminary sketchings. And once I have that down, I can start learning about and building their world: backstory, family, friends, work, play, dilemmas, etc. I tend to write and do research at the same time. A lot of times, these bits and pieces of flesh will come to me just before I fall asleep. It's some of the best writing time for me. And surprisingly, I tend to remember it all the next day. It invigorates me to get to the computer first thing in the morning, to get it all down, to continue their journey from imagination to print. May not be the ideal process but it's the one that works for me.
So, as many of you know, I've been working on my first novel, On the Edge of Someplace Else, for quite awhile now (diligently for 2 years, but I've been living with the story and the characters for over 10 years now!). Spending so much time with these characters, thinking about them and how to tell their stories, has been an all-consuming process. Not a day or night has passed that they didn't have something to say: you need to change this, Jeff; um, since you have so-and-so doing this, then I can't do that; remember you changed my age in the beginning so you have to change it in the middle too; etc, etc. It's been endless. Until the other night.
August 4, 2009, I finished the fifth version (in 2 years) of my novel. Working off of agent and friends' feedback, I reworked the book then edited it again. Once that was done, I said: this is it! I can't look at this anymore. I need to move on. But I've said that before, after each version. Yet the characters would still come to me at night, requesting and demanding changes, revealing new twists or turns or secrets I didn't know they had, introducing me to knew characters I didn't know were vital to their stories. And then I'd have to go back.
But this time I forced myself to move on. I started work on the second novel, working title: The Reclamation of Karel Benakov. As usual, the getting-going was slow work, with much research to be done (especially this one, which is a good deal out of my inherent knowledge zone) and much backstory to create. It can be fun, but hard work and lonely. You don't want to discuss it too much with anyone else having such paltry information with which to answer the inevitable questions, so you keep to yourself. So, I slogged away, writing here and there, adding this and that to the characters lives and troubles. Slow going. And then the other night, as I was laying in bed, these new characters started pushing themselves into my consciousness, mainly Charles and Wallace, though Father Tony has had a few things to add. They all started revealing themselves and their stories and their lives. I was confused for a moment because I've been so used to Jenny and Brian and Mr. Barnes and the other residents of Ashmoore, Oklahoma coming to visit and talk, but they stayed silent. But the confusion dissipated pretty quickly, and I started to listen.
And since then, Charles has come to my thoughts every night now. I realized yesterday, when I "tried" to think about the first novel, about the characters, nothing new came. According to them, they're done, they've said all they needed to say. The relief that washed over me was nothing short of cleansing. I could officially move on, officially welcome Charles and Wallace and Berthold and all of their family and friends into my bed, my mind, and my life with no qualms or worries. It's been an amazing transitioning. I highly recommend it.