So now that we've worked the elements of each act all the way to the end of our story (theoretically...), we're going to go on to rewriting.
But, well... there's a little problem I've been having, and it's time I confessed.
I seem to be writing three books at once.
How did that happen? I’m supposed to know better than that, aren’t I? Wouldn’t I scathe a student up one side and down the other for not focusing on one project until it was done?
Well, I’m not exactly a student, though – and as a screenwriter I juggled multiple scripts at various stages of development all the time, I had to, it’s just the job.
But books are different. They’re so much bigger. Can you really compare the two?
I think I know how this happened, actually.
First, I’m in transition. The Universe in its wisdom has decided to revamp every single aspect of my life in a major, bone-shattering way, and it’s been – special. So it’s not all that surprising that all that upheaval from all directions would start to reflect itself in my writing life.
Second, I just turned in two projects, one right after the other, my paranormal that comes out this fall and a book I wrote with three fabulous other female authors, four interconnected novellas that make up an – apocalyptic – story of its own.
And everything always looks different, disorienting, when you are finished, truly finished, with the immense task that writing a book is.
So it’s not so very surprising that I’m not entirely sure which of the three projects I was toying with - before I had to power down and finish these last two – I want to go back to, now. I don’t even know who I am, anymore – how the hell am I supposed to know what I want to write?
Now, some of this is just rhetorical. I KNOW which book I have to finish first. That would be the one that’s almost finished, duh. It’s unfortunate that I had to leave off on that one at the very worst possible time to leave a book – 3/4s of the way through a first draft, that Slough of Despond where you realize that you never had the slightest bit of talent to begin with, that in fact elves wrote your last four books, along with everything else you’ve ever written, and you might as well go do that other thing that you can’t do because no writer is really equipped to work at anything else, but you better figure something out fast, because your writing career is officially over.
I’m sure none of you has the slightest idea what I’m talking about.
But yes, that’s where I was, and that’s what I had to face when I picked that book up again. Sheer, unadulterated panic ensues.
Now, as I tell my students, as writers we have to push through that section, it is not optional, because it’s exactly the emotional and physical predicament that our CHARACTERS are experiencing at that point of the story… when there is no possible solution to anything in front of them, or us, and we have to have that experience together to get to the final battle. The process is cleverly, sadistically designed that way as part of the magic of storytelling.
And the truth is, I have hit this wall in every single script I’ve ever written, and all six novels, now, and I have always, every single time, gotten through it. That’s a pretty damn good track record.
But it still feels like dying, every single time.
And there are particular elements about this particular book that are making me more nervous even than usual. First, I’m adapting my own short story as a novel. So the gremlins are whispering: This is a short story. What ever made you think it could be a full length novel? You’re stuck because THERE IS NO MORE TO WRITE. Fool.
Also, it’s my first YA. And it’s way too dark to be a YA. Oh, I know, everyone says there’s no such thing as too dark for a YA anymore, but trust me, there is a limit, and I am it.
So that’s Book One. I had 170 pages when I stopped. Clearly need to finish that one first, but - see above.
Book Two is a huge departure for me. Agent loves story. Brilliant group of author friends love story. It’s something I’ve been thinking of for years but finally figured out how to actually do it. Okay, it’s a bit of a departure, urban fantasy, I guess is what I have to call it, and suspenseful, but not so dark as usual, but I was wanting to write something not so dark. Started it back before I had to finish the last two projects and got 85 pages pretty fast. Went to NY for BEA and researched locations, fabulous trip, lots of ideas, should be able to jump right in, no problem, right?
Except that this is the first thing ever that I’m writing in first person. What in hell made me want to do that? I don’t even READ first person. Add to that, it keeps feeling like it should be first person present tense. Aaaaah!! I am completely paralyzed. Go back and rewrite it in third? Push forward but switch to third? Push forward and try first person present tense? I’m not paralyzed, I’m comatose.
So, enter Book Three. Book Three was an idea I was toying with at the same time I was thinking about doing Book Two. More along my usual – very adult, very dark, half crime thriller, half supernatural, or maybe the characters are just crazy… there is an emotional core to it that intrigued me, characters that felt already real, but Book Two felt like a Bigger Idea.
Only once I came up for air from the two just-finished projects, I couldn’t get Book Three out of my head.
And you know how it is about that book you left behind, especially when you are struggling with your current project. I KNOW you know. I have a friend who calls it “the bright and shinys”, but let’s be blunt. It’s the ultimate forbidden fruit. You know you should be committed to your relationship, and you are, really you are… but….
So I was just toying with it, really, a little harmless brainstorming on the side, and suddenly, WHAM!!! That whole book is in my head. Can’t stop thinking about it. And Book of Shadows is out and I’m getting the reviews and the letters and realizing – oh my God, I really am writing a very specific thing and these people who are reading it are expecting that very specific thing – why on earth, when I’m just starting to hit my stride with my particular brand, would I want to suddenly jump track?
My readers would LOVE Book Three, it has everything that they say they read me for.
And it’s in third person. Unless I make it first person. Which I might.
So that’s where I am. Utter chaos. Confusion. When I know – I KNOW – that the only possible way to maintain a career as an author, or any kind of writer, is to FINISH WHAT YOU START.
Well, but this last week, the smoke is starting to clear. I think. I’m not out of the woods yet, but I have been writing five pages a day on Book One. Mind you, the book went off on a tangent that when I reread it might belong to a different universe entirely, but it was so fascinating I just had to go with it. And I was able to remember, barely remember, but remember, that THE FIRST DRAFT IS ALWAYS GOING TO SUCK. It doesn’t have to make any sense. Whole sequences can be thrown out. My only job at this point is to get to The End. Once I reach that happy place known as the Second Draft, I know I can make it happen. I always do.
And you know what? I think I needed to have the release of that illicit brainstorming on Book Three to break through my paralysis on Book One. The utter absurdity of juggling three books took the pressure off all of them. Maybe even Book One got jealous and stopped playing so hard to get when it felt like it was losing my attention. Yes, that sounds completely insane, but can YOU explain how writing works? I thought not.
So now I think I have a plan. Five pages a day on Book One until The End, no excuses, and after that’s done I can do whatever I want on either of the other two for the rest of the writing day. I can live with that.
And the moral of the story? Well, it just goes to prove my number one and only rule of writing.
Really. Whatever gets it written, is gold.
So here's the question. Have you ever cheated on one of your books? How'd that work for you? Humiliating disaster, or creative breakthrough? Can you have multiple projects going, or are you a True Blue?
How To Write A Novel From Start To Finish: previous posts
How to write a novel from start to finish (part one)
What is genre?
What's your premise?
The Price (more on premise)
What is High Concept?
The Dream Journal
Three-Act Structure Review and Assignments
The Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure
The Index Card Method and Story Structure Grid
Elements of Act One
Story Elements Checklist for brainstorming Index Cards
What KIND Of Story Is It?
Elements of Act Two, Part 1
Plants and Payoffs
Plan, Central Question, Central Action (part 1)
What's the PLAN?
Plan, Central Question, Central Action (Part 3)
Elements of Act II, Part 2
The Lover Makes A Stand (romantic comedy structure
Elements of Act Three (part 1)
What Makes A Great Climax? (Elements of Act III, part 2)
What KIND of story is it? (and other notes about Inception)
Screenwriting Tricks For Authors
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