Course Correction

Earlier this week I officially set aside novel #2, working title The Squatters’ Speakeasy, to work on novel #3, which doesn’t really have a working title yet. I’ve been calling it “Wolfie” for reasons that will shortly become apparent.

Travvy inspired Wolfie, but Wolfie gets into a lot more trouble.

Trav inspired Wolfie, but Wolfie gets into a lot more trouble.

Over a year ago, Shannon — a protagonist in my Mud of the Place (aka novel #1) and also a major player in Squatters — spotted a dog running through the woods. She followed it, first in her car, then on foot. She caught it as it tried to wriggle through a fence to get to the sheep on the other side, just in time to save it from the owner of the sheep, who was headed in their direction with a rifle in his hand.

I liked the story, not least because the dog, called Wolfie because that’s what he looked like, was clearly based on my Travvy. But despite my best efforts I couldn’t graft it onto Squatters’ Speakeasy. I made a new folder for it, promised to come back, and returned to Squatters.

Squatters was alive, no doubt about that. It sprawled and kept sprawling, tossing up possibilities like — well, like a dog that offers one behavior after another because it doesn’t know what its person wants. I didn’t know what I wanted either.

In early February, I took a break from Squatters to work on an essay about a controversial statue. (See “Get Me Rewrite” for details.) I also started this blog. When I got up in the morning, I couldn’t wait to sit down in my chair and start writing. I finished the essay. I kept going with the blog. Whenever I thought about waking Squatters from its winter snooze, I was overcome by an irresistible urge to play endless games of Spider solitaire.

I’ve been here before. You probably have too. Is this procrastination, pure and simple? I wondered. What’s really going on here?

As I set out on the path that led to The Mud of the Place, looming up ahead was the 40-Page Barrier. It was high. It was wide. It was solid. I’d written essays, reviews, poems, stories, and one-act plays, some of them pretty good and many of them published, but at 40 pages I choked. I was the cartoon character that runs off a cliff and keeps running — till she looks down, realizes the ground has disappeared, and plummets.

Build it scene by scene, I was advised. Brilliant! Scenes were shorter, often lots shorter, than the essays and such that I’d managed to finish. I could write scenes. Scene by scene I left the 40-Page Barrier in the distance. 100 pages, 200 . . .

As I closed in on 300 pages, a supporting character said something I hadn’t suspected. It changed everything. Prospects had been looking grim for Jay, one of my protagonists. With one character’s revelation they improved immensely. OK, I thought. I’ll finish this first draft, I’ll beat the 40-Page Barrier once and for all, then I’ll go back and rewrite.

But I couldn’t. After happily running on air for nearly 300 pages, I looked down and saw how far down the ground was. I didn’t plummet, but I couldn’t keep going either.

I went back and started rewriting. Thanks to my outspoken character, I noticed things and sensed possibilities I’d missed before. The first 300 pages went much faster this time. I charged forward. I completed a draft that needed plenty of work, sure, but it was still pretty good.

Nevertheless, the standard advice of more experienced writers is Keep going, no matter what! With Procrastination fighting for control of my time, I tried to follow it. But Procrastination was gaining the upper hand.

Then a Facebook friend linked to an article that said procrastination wasn’t all bad. An email from a novelist whose list I’d just joined assured me that writing could and should be fun. And a member of my writers’ group mentioned a paper he’d co-authored about working with survivors of incest and other abuse. I had no idea he’d done this. He had no idea this was a emerging theme in the “Wolfie” manuscript.

These had to be omens. Reassured, I’m running with “Wolfie.” But I’m still nervous. The end is a long way off, and the ground is a long way down. Wish me luck.

 

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7 thoughts on “Course Correction

  1. Good luck! I’m 40,000 words into a novel I thought I’d finish early this year, but once again it’s stalled and I finally decided to move on to other things rather than get nothing done. I really think sometimes a book just isn’t ready to be written. It’s frustrating to me that it can take me so long to figure out things in a work, and that the process often can’t be rushed no matter how hard I push. When the choice appears to be change projects or stall indefinitely, changing projects makes sense. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • I so agree about that “just isn’t ready to be written” part. I think of compost — ideas and impressions need time to break down and become the fertile soil from which the writing grows. Or cooking — not for nothing do we call some ideas “half-baked”! Time is an important ingredient. Still, part of me is afraid that the set-aside novel is going to die for lack of attention.

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  2. Good luck to you! I have not attempted to write a novel, but I can see how that would be a daunting prospect. Everyone seems to have different advice on how to write…I like how your novelist said that writing should be fun. Maybe writing blogs is what we need to charge ourselves up again for the tough stuff. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Blogging and even posting stuff on Facebook charges me up a lot. One of the toughest things about working on a novel or other book-length work is that you’re isolated from any audience. It’s easy to forget that there are potential readers out there. My general advice is “Whatever works!” If it helps you keep going, do it. If it makes you feel like crap, don’t.

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      • Sue, I agree. One of the hardest things I’ve faced in the last ten years of writing has been the feeling of intense isolation and the fear that I’d never find an audience. And blogging has helped that some, both by gaining me new readers and by joining in conversation with other writers. And sometimes intense spotlight of blogging makes me want to curl up and crawl back into the “safe”, private world of my books–which is also a good thing. ๐Ÿ™‚

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