Writing Daedalus #3 — how it begins

I am no expert on writing books. Aside from “Honors” English classes in high school, I have never taken a formal writing class. Among other things, this means I don’t follow a prescribed formula.

I do get a number of questions from readers, often it is “how do you come up with the ideas for your books” and “how do you go about writing”. I’ll tell the story about the first two Daedalus books at some other time. For now, let’s talk about the new work in progress.

In truth, I didn’t begin writing the Daedalus series with a long story arc with Hindsight as the first installment. In fact, when I wrote Hindsight, I hadn’t contemplated writing a second book, much less a series. This idea was brought to me by the readers, who were clamoring for a follow-up to Hindsight, to tell more of the story. After writing the Griffin Paradox, I had in mind to do more books in a series but I did not craft the remaining story or the next chapter before finishing the Griffin Paradox. I hoped for inspiration to strike in time for me to begin writing the new book. Turns out it did.

Now, before getting further down this story of my writing process, I’ll explain why I continue to say “Daedalus #3”. I don’t yet have a title for the book. I had an idea of the title of Hindsight long before I finished writing it, but in that case the actual writing of the first draft really only took about two weeks. I had completed the Griffin Paradox before I decided on a title. I am not sure what to expect for the the next book, but it’s likely I will get at least part of it written before I know what I will call it.

Soon after finishing the Griffin Paradox, I began taking notes on the story for the next book. This consisted of just a few disconnected ideas, maybe things that will grow into a scene, or themes that need to be covered in the book. Over the months that followed, I would sporadically contribute to my ideas list, which it turns out I probably will never actually refer to. The process of writing something down for me is much more about making a mark in my own mind about something I should remember. But my experience tells me that once I start writing, I just write and the story develops organically. I don’t tend to return to my notes. I suppose if I ever got stuck writing I might look at my notes in desperation, and maybe find gold nuggets of inspiration in there. Who knows. I’ve never been good at using notes.

A few months ago we were in a shuttle bus in Jamaica returning to the airport in Montego Bay at the end of our vacation there. I had intended to actually write the draft of Daedalus #3 while on vacation there in Jamaica, which was beyond silly. I just never found the motivation and didn’t really feel like it. I don’t want to force it. But while in the shuttle on the way to the airport, wouldn’t you know it: inspiration hit.

Actually this is a good time to share a little bit deeper into my writing process. With Hindsight, I had truly been thinking about this story for the better part of a decade. I had an overall story summary in my mind that I could tell you in one sentence. What I didn’t have were any of the story details that make it meaningful or real for a reader. None. And I didn’t even think about those things because there was a major hole in the story for me. I knew what I wanted to tell in terms of the meaning of the story. Maybe, the “moral”, but not really. But I was lacking an idea that would make the story plausible. Now, just in case anyone is reading this blog and you haven’t yet read Hindsight, I won’t give anything away. But a good novel has some layers to it. It has a foundation that is the meaning of the story. Hindsight in the end was about honesty and integrity. At another layer, it was about one man’s honesty and integrity, or more specifically his lament of the loss of his integrity. Then comes: how did he lose his integrity? What is the situation he is in that has made this loss become a powerful change agent in his life? And at some point, I had to answer the question: what plausible real-world circumstances, that a reader can relate to, would naturally lead to this man’s situation? It is at that layer where I had a hole. There was a gap in the plausible real-world circumstances, a gap that persisted for several years. Then one day while I was driving to work in the morning, I discovered the one thing that would fill this gap. That thing is not interesting at all, but what’s more interesting is that once I filled this gap, I went home and wrote Hindsight, in its entirety, literally in two weeks.

Much like Hindsight, Daedalus #3 is a story where I have a general idea of what story I want to tell; what meaning I want it to have. But all of the layers are not complete, and some of them will just fill in and form naturally as I begin the process of actual writing. Before that shuttle bus ride in Jamaica, there was still a critical gap, much like the one that persisted for years before I wrote Hindsight. While riding on that shuttle bus, I discovered the piece that would fill that gap, and then like a torrent, I began writing notes in surprising detail. The shuttle ride was maybe two hours or so, and in that time I managed to frame out most of the important details of Daedalus #3.

Now I am at the stage of re-reading my last book in the series, in this case the Griffin Paradox. I am familiarizing myself again with my characters. Their personalities, what they did in this book, specifically. How they interacted. For me it’s not so much about reminding myself of the story and how it left off, but much more about putting myself back in the context of the characters and their world. I have so far finished reading a bit over half of it and will finish in a couple of days.

Believe it or not, I still don’t really know the entire story for Daedalus #3. That story will get created as I am telling it. It is still somewhat of a mystery even to me. In a way the story writes itself into me, rather than the other way around. With Hindsight I knew precisely what I wanted for the outcome before I ever even framed the story at all. The entire story was always about the very end, and the very end was the first thing I imagined and the entire motivation for the book. For the Griffin Paradox, there is one central event that drove the entire story, but I didn’t even imagine Charles Griffin’s character even in broad strokes until I had already written over half of the book. With Daedalus #3, I have a result, and endpoint, just like with the other two books. I am driving at the ending and the meaning I intend to tell is firmly in place. But the whole story? I haven’t a clue. I only know elements, bits and pieces. I will begin to tell it to myself and it will talk back to me as I write. It’s almost as if I will observe the story as it unfolds in my mind and write it down. This is how my creative process works. From what I can tell, this is not typical of writers, or of good ones at any rate.

Maybe it’s my jazz background or all of the time I have spent playing music with no chart and no plan. In everything I do, I wind up improvising 99% of the time. Or maybe at my core I’m an improv artist, and I just adapt my life and everything I do to fit my only true talent, which is to make things up as I go.

With that, I’ll post this blog without going back and editing or even re-reading. I’ll read it once it’s posted and discover what I wrote then, much like I am reading the Griffin Paradox now and discovering what I wrote there and I will discover the story of Daedalus #3 as I am writing it, and discover more about it when I read it over and over later on. I’m sure my English teachers would cringe if they read this. But my ready-writing coach from my HS Academic decathlon would probably figure this is about right.