I completed my first novel draft in 2003, during National Novel Writing Month. Seven years later, I had written more that 200,000 words spanning three-plus drafts of this same novel. I finally realized that “winging it,” or pants-ing it (as in flying by the seat of one’s pants), didn’t work for me.
Fast-forward to 2012. In April, I wrote the opening chapter for a new novel based on a dream I had the previous October. This chapter was written, and submitted, for an advanced novel-writing course through Gotham Writers Workshops. Based on feedback, I rewrote the opening and began planning my novel in earnest, following 90 Days to Your Novel by Sarah Domet. Six months later, I had a completed outline, a 35,000-word synopsis, roughly 20,000 words in potential scenes, and backup material galore (character sheets, setting sheets, etc.). I typed “THE END” on the final page of my 110,000-word manuscript the day after Christmas–less than nine months after starting the project.
Not only was this the fastest that I had ever reached what I considered a “working draft” that actually resembled the finished story, but I also knew without a doubt that it was the single best piece of fiction I had written at that point in my life.
NEWS FLASH: I was a plotter!
It had only taken me a full decade to realize that I was tackling novel-writing the wrong way. For me. All I had to do now was follow the same process for subsequent novels, and I should be able to crank out two manuscripts a year. (After all, practice should bring efficiency gains.)
Eh, not so much.
My previous novel was a complex, SLIDING-DOORS-style story that followed two different courses for the protagonist’s life, depending on a decision she made nearly 20 years earlier.
My current project is a classic urban fantasy, based on another dream that hijacked my planned NaNoWriMo project for 2014–on October 29, less than three days before I started writing.
Given its single story line, and the fact that I had a 50,000 rough draft to work from just 33 days later, I figured this project would be a piece of cake.
Every Child Is Different
I only have one son, but I have two sisters. My husband has a brother. We have friends with multiple children. All available data confirms that every child is indeed unique.
The same holds true for creative brainchildren.
Perhaps some writers find their literary groove and follow the exact same process for every story or novel. But I suspect that the journey of each project is unique–if for no other reason than the ongoing evolution of the author.
This novel has proven challenging because of the world-building aspect. While I’ve read a wide range of books and stories with supernatural creatures, I still have to decide which laws govern my fictional world, as well as how they affect the lives of human characters.
In addition, I’ve struggled with which story lines to pursue and which ones to cut. I decided to start with my primary story line, but quickly realized that I’m not entirely certain of my central conflict and quest.
In short, the more I learn, the more questions I have.
So here I am, more than two-and-a-half years into this project, feeling no closer to a working draft than when I started. (To be fair, I did spend five or six months rewriting and polishing my previous novel during this period.)
A Seemingly Endless Loop
My writing accountability group has heard me almost-but-not-quite affectionately refer to this work in progress as “the book that will not end.” In fact, I can scarcely think of this project without hearing a version of Shari Lewis’s “The Song That Doesn’t End” from Lamb Chop’s Play-Along.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve made some mistakes. The sins I consider the most egregious include:
- Reverting to pantsing. Okay. I decided to pursue this new idea two days before NaNoWriMo. Nothing wrong with using the month-long event to brainstorm everything I could about this new book. The problem arose when I attempted to write both the second and third drafts in the same haphazard fashion.
- Getting lost in the abstract. Almost all of my planning has been theoretical. I keep going back and chasing different leads, rather than following the story through to its conclusion and refining from a macro perspective.
- Giving in to fear and self-doubt. This one makes me cringe. (And guess what? If by some miracle you’ve never been guilty of this, just wait. “Monkey brain” never goes away.) As I flail about, trying to make sense of the story, I wonder whether I have the skill required to write this novel at this time. Maybe I should stick with something more my speed, like grocery lists.
After much soul-searching, much binge-reading, and even more procrastination, I’ve finally reached the following conclusion . . .
Writing Is Hard—Suck It Up
The only way to finish this book is to slog through. If I want to finish it before my four-year-old’s high-school graduation, that means working on it every damn day, or as close to that as possible, as much as I can. I should eventually break through the current obstacle and make some progress until hitting the next brick wall.
Then, rinse and repeat.
To avoid repeating the asinine loop that has defined this project, I should mix in freewriting spurts and give the characters a chance to share their thoughts and feelings. All such writing will no doubt be rewritten drastically, but it should point me in the right direction.
And if it takes me a while to get through the draft . . . It’s the writing process. Or, more specifically, it’s my writing process for this book.