Monday, April 14, 2008

Is that any way to write a novel?... And Rushdie as a gynecologist?

In "No Outline? Is That Any Way to Write a Novel," novelist Elinor Lipman writes that people seem shocked when people ask her if she writes outlines and her reply is: "I know almost nothing before I start. I just put one foot in front of the other."

She adds: "Then I bring up Edith Wharton, all-star emeritus on the no-outline team. Legend has it that a completed manuscript she submitted was lost in a fire at her publisher's. The editor asked her to rewrite it, saying, effectively, 'How hard could it be since you already wrote it once?' Wharton replied, 'I couldn't possibly rewrite it. When he asked why, she said, 'Because I already know the ending.'"

Like Lipman, I don't write outlines. However, I do use various versions of notetaking about character and plot ideas, which are very flexible but can serve as anchors during the chaos of discovery. This is true even for memoir, a story in which I ostensibly already know "what happened."

For me, writing is never transcription of what's already in my mind. It's an act of discovery. I wrote a little about this previously here.

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Speaking of Lipman, her novel Then She Found Me has been made into a movie by Helen Hunt. In a recent Q&A in the New York Times, this tidbit emerged:

Question: "At one point in the movie the novelist Salman Rushdie pops up as a gynecologist. How did that happen?"

Helen Hunt: "The casting director walked in and said, 'Uh, Salman Rushdie wants to read,' and I said, 'Shut up!' He came in and gave a great audition. It’s one of those things you don’t overthink. It was just strange enough to be a good idea."
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