New Age author writes novel “live”

Vera H-C Chan
Senior Editor, Special Projects
The Sideshow

Want to get primed for National Novel Writing Month? Here's your chance to watch the sausage being made.

Silvia Hartmann, a British New Age lecturer on topics like EmoTrance and energy psychology, is exposing the soul-searing process by writing a novel "live" via Google Docs. Hartmann, who also writes fiction under the nom de plume Nick Starfields, began her "Naked Writer Project" Wednesday. Already she has plowed out a dozen chapters of "The Dragon Lords," starting with the first line, "It was not every day that Mrs Delhany found a naked man in the driveway." (The beginning involves Mrs. Delhany learning about this stranger "who had fallen to Earth and landed on her driveway" through a "river [of] information flowing from his hands into hers" and her tomcat.)

As if exposing the raw process wasn't enough, Hartmann will also dare to take reader feedback on the fly, as well as suggestions for the title. She does have some notes for readers and a running word count. Writes Hartmann in her first note:

I'm going to be dealing with this story as I do all stories. I don't sit here and write for hours on end, I write in bursts when I feel like it. And I can't let the pressure of the project change that. So I'm probably going to do a bit of email and such now, general day work and will be resuming in a while. Cheers!

Hartmann hopes to finish the project, perhaps the "first of its kind in that it allows fans to see words being typed," in four to eight weeks.

Everyone's a critic—and an author—too. The critics are already weighing in ... or at least the Guardian describes this first pass as "fairly bonkers" but the entire process as "mesmerising."

The author-in-progress herself has acknowledged reader-writer collaborations aren't new: Most recently, a Chicago storyteller named Willy Chyr sought sentence contributions to The Collabowriters, an attempt at an Internet-written novel. So far that effort has included an ignominious start worthy of Bulwer-Lytton:

It was a dark and stormy night. Zachary, wet and miserable, had been dispatched by his father to scamper across town to pick up some drugs for his step-mother. From the road, he could see the still frozen river. It was only March but it was starting to melt. In a week, the ice would be gone. The barbed sweet stenches of sewage wafting up between the ice cracks on the canal were arrogantly broadcasting an early spring. From somewhere across the canal, a soft sound was barely audible over the moan of shifting ice and garbage: "Help."

And of course, "Monty Python" fans might think we're one step closer to having the "Novel Writing" sketch come true. The British comedy troupe did a sketch about Wessex "local boy" Thomas Hardy writing "The Return of the Native" live before a swooning crowd of spectators. An excerpt: "And he's off—it's the first word, but it's not a word. Oh no! It's a doodle way up in the top left-hand margin, it's a piece of meaningless scribble and he's signed his name underneath it. Oh dear, what a disappointing start..."