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.
“This isn’t the hard work that comes with being an author.”
I don’t know, I think it IS part of what comes with being an author. I think I’ve heard the same or similar experiences from most of my fellow writers Sometimes we have to stick an idea in the trunk for a while because it’s not working and we don’t know why. Occasionally that project will remain forever trunked, but just as often, you’ll be able to pull it out after some months (or even years) tucked away and look at it with new perspective. Mabye you’ll have to start from scratch with the same concept, or maybe you’ll figure out a way to salvage parts of what you have and move forward with the rest.
It’s frustrating, for sure. My first novel (that I published earlier this year) was trunked a couple times. I wrote the first iteration in high school. I didn’t really have dreams of publication at that point, and I think part of me knew it wasn’t really publishable in that state, anyway. I left it alone for several years, but the original idea that had sparked that first novel (the nature of the relationship between the two main characters) stuck with me all those years until I finally got an idea that I thought could work. I kept the relationship aspect, and major personality traits of the main characters, but everything else changed. There is one scene, just a couple pages, that made it into the new version nearly unchanged. Once the new version was written, revised, revised, and revised some more, there was something still just a little off, but I’d been working on it for so long I couldn’t think clearly about it. I set it aside for quite a few months while I worked on other projects, then came back to it with fresh eyes and fixed it much more easily than I thought I’d be able to. And then finally, I self published. It’s definitely a long, stressful, and sometimes uncertain process.
Try not to let it discourage you too much. There’s always the next story to work on, another book you want to read, some publishing thing to research, and plenty of other stuff to keep you occupied while this particular project takes a rest and percolates in the back of your mind.
I agree with you, by and large. And I do expect the difficulties you mention to be there. But this just feels like it is beyond those, in a way. (Though I think I have an idea that might clear some of the rubble away. I haven’t tried it yet, however.)
The main reason I am thinking on it so much for now is that I like to have one major/long project going on as I work periodically on the smaller things. I sort of planned for Novel 2 to be that longer project this year, and I am not even sure any other longer project is ready to be worked on in that capacity just yet.
That sounds rough. 😦 There have been times when I’ve been tempted to abandon my wip, but I don’t think it was because of the problems you’re describing. In those times, it was when I recognized the flaws it had and wondered if I had the time and energy to fix them or if I would benefit more from scrapping it. But in the end, I’m too attached to scrap it. If you’re not passionate about or even just attached to Novel #2 to feel upset about scrapping it, that might be a good sign that scrapping is the best plan.
On the other hand, that is a big deal. Do you need a second pair of eyes to read over it and possibly throw out some ideas you might not have thought of?
Thanks, Laura. I don’t know if it is cohesive enough as an entity for a second pair of eyes just now, however I may share with you at some point the gist of the journey I want the book to take, and what some of the problems I am having are.
That was a good read through. I enjoy your blog. Thanks for sharing with us.