Sunday, March 11, 2012

Getting back on the horse

In this post, horse is a metaphor for writing.  I'm too lazy to write a long-winded, symbolic paragraph on how getting back on a horse is like continuing to write, so let's move on to the good stuff.

There comes a point in almost all manuscripts where you hit an obstacle.  Usually it looks something like this:

And you find yourself saying, "Where do I got from here? None of the options seem very appealing."

That inevitably leads you to wonder if it's time to do this:

Or this:

But I'm here to tell you, dear readers, that this is normal.  What matters is what you choose to do.  I'm fairly open that Crewel is my first novel, but I've always said that with the caveat attached that it is my first finished novel.  There were a whole lot of almost-novels that I crapped out on at about the 50 page mark.  One got up to 80 pages, but then my computer blew up (or just died) and I lost the whole damn thing and that's when I learned about backing things up.

I can't say I'm sorry I abandoned those novels.  Some of them are decent.  Some sit printed in drawers, waiting to be revisited someday.  One I started and restarted and restarted hoping to gain headway.  It was the book I was working on in the months before I began Crewel.  I didn't lose it to the great Mac catastrophe of 2010.  It was a casualty of this:

The signpost of doom, the omg-no-way-is-getting-me-anywhere.  And a few head desks.  I tried.  I didn't want to give up, but then I started hearing about soon to be released novels with similar premises.  And eventually I let my frustrated brain think about other ideas and one day it gave me Crewel.  I'm thrilled that it, and not the manuscript of infinite frustration, will be my debut novel.  However, did I make the right choice in giving up on the other?  Should you drawer a manuscript because of confusion or writer's block or rejections?  The fact is that it wasn't a good book.  It had its moments, but it never knew where it was going.

Crewel was somehow different.  I wasn't giving up on that novel even when things got rough.  At one point one of CPs suggested I work on another idea I'd had.  She really liked Other Idea, as did I, but I was stubborn.  I was going to finish.  There were many days where I wanted to quit, but I kept on shoveling shit, as Stephen King would say, and then I would get to write a kissing scene or I'd come up with a perfect, snarky one-liner, and I'd feel that moment of heart-swelling pride that only parents and writers really understand.

But for the last month I've been wandering on writing on the lost path.  Not sure where book 2 was going.  All I knew was that I wanted it to be DONE.

If you were following my word count challenge last week, you may have seen that one of the days I wrote 1 word.  ONE.  I hit a snag.  You see I'd been traveling farther and farther down the lost path for a while, but I just kept going.  I had great faith that one of my characters would spot a clearer path along the way, but I was beginning to wonder if I'd come to the end of the second draft and have to toss it all out.  It felt wrong.  It felt lost.  I kept going anyway.  I strongly considered just throwing in an explosion ala The Stand, but I resisted.  An explosion was not going to fix this problem.  Although explosions do happen in the novel.  Go figure.

One-word-challenge-day was the day I realized where I was lost and how to get back on the path to a decent manuscript.  It meant about 20k of the then 70k manuscript was unusable.  It meant Frankensteining chapters together.  It meant excising whole characters who would no longer have a place. It meant that rather than being 3 chapters from the end, I was back to being 10-15 chapters from having a full draft.

So I did what any rational author does.  I cried to a CP on the phone, buried my face in the table at Starbucks, and tried to convince myself I was totally wrong.  I could keep going.  I could make this work.  It just wouldn't be as good as it could be.

And aye, there's the rub.

Genn three years ago would have put that manuscript in the drawer.  It was too hard.  I was too lost.  Clearly, I didn't have what it takes.  She might have kept going on the wrong path and finished up a draft that was bad.  But things have changed, and not just because of Crewel.

One of the amazing things that has happened since I started writing Crewel in late 2010 is that I have some incredible critique partners.  Each of them brings something unique to the table.  One is the mom I never had - supportive, inspiring, always there for me no matter how petty or stupid I'm being.  Another just gets it - he just gets me in a way that's rare to find in any aspect of your life.  And the last is someone I latched on to out of pure necessity because I needed a real friend to do real grown-up things with and have play dates with, but mostly because omg-she-was-also-writing-a-book.  I'm so fortunate that she didn't just hide from my needy needfulness, but for some reason thought I might be a good bet.  All of them have made me a better, stronger, vastly more sane writer.

This week after three years and many incarnations of her book, CP #3 got a book deal.  She signed with Mollie after working on an arduous revise and resubmit and then a week - no joke- later she sold her book in a 3 book deal to a dream house in a dream pre-empt.

Now I didn't just learn from her to not give up and to work doggedly on a hard manuscript - even if I did.  I actually learned that sometimes the hard is what makes something great (which is also a lesson in A League of Their Own, but let's keep our eyes on the ball, shall we?).  Her novel is worlds different from the first version I read a year ago and no doubt totally different from the book she set out to write in the beginning.  But she did what she had to do to make it the best possible book, even when that meant lots and lots of rewriting and reimagining.  She never shied away from the work.

Watching her commit to that book inspiring.  And it totally paid off.

Now I have the luxury of having sold the book I'm currently writing already.  I could have turned in that book after forcing out the last few chapters.  It wasn't a bad book, but it wasn't a great book either.  Reworking it is going to be hard, but now that I'm on the right path, the work feels less perfunctory.  Less tedious.  As much as I needed to wander the lost path until I found my way, I'm remembering how wonderful it is to feel the drive of purposeful storytelling.  And something I've learned from my own experience and from my CPs is that you never get to that point of really knowing you're on the right path, the one that will eventually lead you where you need to be, if you give up.  An abandoned manuscript will never be a book, and an easy manuscript probably won't be good.  But that's okay, because it's the hard that makes it great.



  1. Melissa Brady KingMarch 12, 2012 at 4:01 AM

    Great post! When I read the awesomeness that will be Book 2, I will remember this post and how you soldiered through it.

  2. You're amazing and lovely and you inspire me much more than I probably inspire you :)

  3. Amazing post. I'm in that place right now with my WIP. Trying to get through the lost place, I've realized I'm about to scrap 15K words. *Taking a deep cleansing sigh* But my story will be stronger for it.