…so I undertook a major rewrite of my novel. Instead of relating the backstory as flashbacks, I retained the original prologue with some extra paragraphs at the end to give it a new context, and then started in on the story while the two bands that are initially involved are on the tour.
I got the new first chapter out and was pretty proud of myself, but then it started getting difficult because I was forcing myself to write in chronological order. And when I say force, I’m not kidding. I stalled out a lot, and then I would have to make myself sit there and push through, word by word. Sometimes it could take an hour of me researching or just daydreaming for inspiration in order to produce a whole sentence. Sometimes I just could not find the right word, and that would tangle me up for hours, too. My natural tendency before was to write until I got bored and then switch to some other part of the story, whether I was actually done with the scene or not.
At one point in a friend who manages a small occult press said he was planning on expanding their offerings to include novels and said he’d be interested to read what I had. I hastily cobbled together a master file of everything I had, putting it into some semblance of chronological order for him so that it would make some kind of sense. Seven months prior to embarking on the rewrite I had downloaded that file into my Kindle and taken it with me to read on the plane when we took a family vacation to DisneyWorld. I was thrilled to be reading it all on the Kindle…it made it feel more like it was a real novel than just some silly crap I was working on.
I read it and was appalled to find that, no, it read more like silly crap. That dissatisfaction ultimately convinced me I needed to change my flighty writing habits and try to write the story on as straight a chronological timeline as possible. That meant not only keeping flashbacks to a minimum but also just literally pushing through and writing all the connecting scenes that lacked the iconic quality (at least in my own mind) that gave me such a rush to write. Then I started having trouble with the iconic scenes because now that I was pushing straight through I found I had a lot of expectations for certain scenes. Plus some unseelie spirit that resides within me resented doing it in the first place and decided to inject a full load of inertia into the process and bog it down.
But I pressed on. By July — the six-month mark — I had about 350 pages. But then I foundered again due to my own expectations surrounding the much-anticipated introduction of a character, I wrote the scene and then rewrote it, utterly dissatisfied by the way it came off. I was so frustrated. I had imagined that somehow I might actually finish — or come very close to finishing The Lesser Evil by the year mark. My friend Amy Burgess suggested writing parallel chapters featuring the character in question much earlier, before they encounter the rest of the characters in the story. I balked. It was supposed to be a big surprise reveal — the main reason why it had developed such hype, such gravity in my mind that I no matter what I did, it didn’t come out right. Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise to the reader, but it would be to the other characters.
I thought about it, and when it finally sank in that I’d missed something very obvious in not doing that in the first place, it was like being sucker-punched. One of the most painful lessons I’ve learned throughout these last eleven months is how abysmal my ability to plot is. I have great ideas, but I have a hard time putting them together so that they come in the right order and at the best time for telling a good story. I’m getting better, I think, but it’s a slow process.
I scraped myself up off the mat and wrote the scenes, plus two other chapters dealing with other characters where there were plot holes. In the end I had 50 more pages of material that I went back and retrofitted in amongst the already existing chapters. I think it took me about a month and a half to do that, and then I went back in and smoothed some other things out that would give me a better foundation going forward.
I wrote some more after that and then at the end of October got pretty frustrated again with trying to figure out some kind of ending that made sense. I had some vague ideas, but I wasn’t sure how to get there. I worked out some more ideas, but I was coming up against the fact I was running out of steam. I’d been going full-tilt for ten months, and it had taken a toll on my general life functioning, plus I was getting discouraged and despairing that I would ever actually finish. I had tried to simplify things and march to the finish, but it just made me miserable not to give the story its due.
In November I was persuaded to try my hand at flash fiction pieces of 1,000 words a piece. I also got talked into entering a weekly contest, 5 Minute Fiction, put on every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Central Time by Wendy Strain in the hope that it would help me to focus on the essentials of a story and thus eventually work some kind of magic in my brain when it comes to plotting. Surprisingly, I have gotten so much satisfaction from the flashes and the 5 Minute Fic contest that I am currently expanding on the idea of having shorter, more manageable pieces to work on and currently writing a short story.
And then on November 18, which synchronicitously happens to be the main character in my novel’s birthday, I began hollowing out an hour block of time every day from 6 to 7 a.m., before my daughter gets up for school, in order to assure that I always write for an uninterrupted period hour every day, and also give myself permission not to obsess about it every hour of the day. I can write more than that if I can, but this way I know I’m doing something steadily and predictably, and I’m finding that on average I can produce about 500 words and hour, even when not in a flow state.
TLE is at about 220K — about 460 pages — and I’ve put it aside until at least the first of the year to give myself permission to relax about it and exercise my writing muscles on other things. I have more of a developed idea now of where to go as far as the ending, but to get there I am back to complexifying things. It’s what the story — and my Muse — demand of me. It’s what my good friend Amy calls a “heart novel” — something that has a great deal of the author in it, and the kind of work that needs to breathe a bit more than most or else drive its creator crazy.
And I can’t go crazy. I’ve got a novel to finish — even if it ends up a thousand pages.