Two Steps Forward, One Step Back (or Why I Kind of Hate My Novel Right Now)

April 23, 2015

I started talking about my effort to write a novel in the real world back in November when I was doing NaNoWriMo. I made sort of an announcement about it here on Lost Caws in December when I redoubled my attention to blogging. I provided an update in January sharing my overall progress with bold (and foolish) proclamations about when I thought I’d be done with a draft. I’ve talked a lot about my process in different ways.

I’ve been talking about my novel for a long time it seems. Freakin’ ages, it feels like.

And people are starting to ask questions.

A Kitchen Sink Novel

How’s the book? Finished your draft yet? When will it be done? 

This is coming from a good place. I’ve been SUPER lucky to have pretty much everyone I talk to rooting for me, confident I can do this thing. The questions are always meant to be encouraging, to let me know people are excited for what I’m working on. They are invariably followed with statements like “I can’t wait to buy a copy!” or “can I get an autograph from the author *wink*.” Let me first say thank you to those who have asked and encouraged me. I do actually appreciate it.

But, damn, the questions are getting harder to answer. They make me nervous, you see. What if I don’t have the answers! (I don’t) I feel like I’m keeping a secret. (I am, kinda)

That last bit is important. In a way I have been keeping a secret, from most people at least. So here it is:

My book is a bit of a mess right now, and I’m having a really, really hard time untangling it.

Whew. Kinda feels good to get that out there.


Look! A picture of my novel.

Just today I learned a new term for describing at least part of the problem. I’ve written a “kitchen sink” novel, as in I’ve thrown everything and the kitchen sink into it. When I started writing, I told myself to keep it small, tell a nice compact story, avoid the temptation to make it bigger and bigger. That’s pretty good advice for a first time novelist to take!

I probably should have listened to me. I can be pretty smart sometimes.

But I didn’t listen. The good news is that I don’t have a shortage of ideas. The bad news is that I’ve tried to cram every idea I’ve ever had into this one book. I initially wanted to write a single, standalone novel, something that could easily be read on its own with no need for sequels. With all the stuff I’ve tried to put into it, my story would take at least three books to tell, and I’ve also planted seeds that would connect to two separate, unrelated novel ideas that are either in partial draft or outline form. It is…complicated. That’s a lot of stuff! Why would I try to do all that on my first attempt?

I do not lack for ambition. Only for good sense.

No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy

Despite what all this might sound like, I went into this whole “gonna be a writer” thing reasonably well-prepared for what it might be like. That is to say I knew it was going to be hard regardless of how excited about it I was. So imagine my surprise now, many months into writing a novel, when I discover how right I was.

On the positive side, I knew there would be days where I would feel so full of words and ideas that I wouldn’t be able to hold them back. They’d come tumbling out of my brain, spilling onto the pages of stories and blog posts with ease. My short story Witness was kinda like that. And I knew there would be days that were the opposite. I knew I’d have stretches where no matter how hard I searched, the right words would elude me.

But through it all, I trusted that I could power through the rough patches, could just stare at the screen until a breakthrough happened. After all, writing is a job. Waiting for a muse to come rest on your shoulder is a fool’s errand. The muse went out to get a pack of smokes and isn’t coming back. If you wanna get anything done, you gotta go track that muse down, snag it by the ankles with a deft toss of your bolas, and force it to sit in the chair across from you while you write.

I still believe that, but I know it’s shortsighted, too. It is my job to write.  It is not necessarily my job to keep writing The Witches of Nicollet Island despite my inability to make progress. There is a famous paraphrased saying regarding military strategy. “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” The idea is that you can plan all you like, but your plan will be forced to change when you meet with reality. My struggles with my novel are a bit like that.

178H (1)

This is what I feel like trying to write the novel right now.

Back when I worked in the corporate world, I was a big proponent of telling people (and myself) to set difficult problems aside for a while if you got stuck. You take some time away from a thing, your mind gets a chance to clear, to see it with new, fresh eyes. Again, that’s pretty good advice! Like I said, I can be pretty smart sometimes.

And this time I intend to take my own advice. It’s time to let the thing sit there for a bit, to stew in its juices, to rest.* I am by no means ‘giving up’ on The Witches of Nicollet Island. Despite the title of this blog post, I don’t precisely hate my novel. In many ways I love it. I still think it’s got some fun characters, some really entertaining parts, and the potential for an interesting and engaging world. There’s a lot more I like in it than dislike. But my novel in its current state is basically like a teenager. Willful, stubborn and not willing to listen to me despite me thinking I know what’s best for it.

So I’m gonna give it some space. I’ve got a bunch of other stuff to work on, so I’m going to do that for a bit. That might mean more short stories here on Lost Caws or it might mean picking up one of my other novel drafts. Probably both. I have no idea how much time I intend to step away from The Witches of Nicollet Island, but I think that’s what’s best for now. This is hard for me. I’m a perfectionist. Intellectually I know I haven’t failed in any way, but this still feels a little like failing. I say that even though I fully believe the story will be much better in the end.

Wish me luck, and feel free to keep asking questions.

*Apparently, I am hungry for a steak.

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