More Novel 2 Blues
How do I solve a problem like Novel 2?
The sage I’ve gone through trying to make this novel happen would probably make a half-way decent novel in its own right. (Though I won’t be writing that!)
If you have followed the blog you know what I’m talking about. As per my normal writing process, I was to have a first draft of my second novel completed by now, ready to be set aside for first revisions later in the year. I started outlining the plot in early fall of last year.
That outline was not 100% finished when I started writing the first draft as part of Nanowrimo. In the past it has worked well for me to outline about half of something, then right the draft of it, than outline the second half and finish the rough draft. I make it a point not to review anything in the rough draft as I write. My goal is to write the rough draft, let it sit, and then come back a month or so later and begin revising. I don’t revise as I write.
The plan worked well at first. I finished most of the first half of the plot outline. I switched to writing the actual draft based on same for Nanowrimo, and got to 50,000 words, by the way. But then after Nano, things started to feel jammed and stressful. And not in the stressful way writers are used to when they have to create entire universes our of almost nothing. The kind of stress that comes when you know you have a big mess on your hands, and don’t know how to fix it.
First drafts are supposed to be messes, of course. Big, lumbering messes. That was not the sort of mess I was experiencing with Novel 2, however. I was experiencing what normally only happens when I try to “pants” a longer work; the plot was going nowhere. Even with the outline it became clear I was writing towards a void. I’m a plotter, dammit, I can’t work that way.
But I pressed-on, determined to stick with my process. I did get to the end of the half-outline. But as I started outlining the second half, I had to surrender to the inevitable. Despite being a first draft that I had not yet completed and allowed to “bake” for a while, Novel 2 was not sustainable. It just didn’t have enough of a skeleton to add flesh too. (One reason I outline.) It wasn’t that there was an arc and I was taking too much time getting there, or that the words I was using to get there were sloppy. No, as that old expression goes, I realized that there “wasn’t very much there, there.”
I sketched out an abbreviated new plot for the first half. I cut out about half of all the words I had written. I’d call it killing my darlings, but none of them were especially precious to me. (Maybe that was part of the problem.) I salvaged the passages and actions and plot devices I thought could survive the transition into a leaner, more focused story. Ad I left it. And there is has been left for the last several months.
And the time has come lately, to take a look at it again. I’ve been brainstorming, outlining, reading and rereading, and doing just about everything you can think of to piece together Novel 2 from all of the spare parts I’ve left myself with. And so far, it isn’t working. I just can’t seem to develop a skeleton that is in line with the spirit and premise I have already worked out. (A premise, I may add, that has been floating around in my head for years.)
I’m starting to wonder now, (or fear?) that only two none to pleasing options exist with Novel 2. The first is total rebooting. Staying with the concept, but forgetting all that I have written so far, and take the concept in a new direction.
The other is to abort.
Both options sort of make me nauseous. I made a conscious decision to write this novel next. I planned for it and invested in it. It may yet be salvageable as is, but I have run out of ideas so far. I of course could just let it sit longer. But my sense is that no cure will present itself for the problems that currently plague the project. If it were to do so, it would have happened by now.
Was it a mistake to start this novel in Nanowrimo? Should I have outlined completely before writing instead of outlining the first half only? Was my difficulty in outlining a clue that this was simply not a workable idea? Or should I have pressed on and finished the rough draft, even with its gaping holes before trying surgery? Should I have pantsed my way through the holes that showed up? Maybe I wrecked it by not trusting my process? Or perhaps I was too much a slave to my process…
I just don’t know. I only know this…this isn’t the heartache of trying to bring a story to life. This isn’t the hard work that comes with being an author. This is a mess. A mess that I am uncertain can be fixed while maintaining loyalty to the concept.