25 Sep

Confession: at an underwhelming 143 new words written on my novel this week, it’s safe to say this has been the worst week to date on my novel’s progress.  

Now.  I could hurl my computer to the cats and let them have their way with it, but that’s not really the best solution, I’ve decided.  I could scrub the baseboards with a toothbrush, but distraction doesn’t help much in the way of progress, either.  

I wrote the other day about the need for a peaceful place to write.  After reading the comments, it was increasingly clear to me from all of your experiences that words ache to get out if they’re in there, and ideas refuse to be silenced.  If words aren’t fighting to get onto the page, a change of location doesn’t work too well anyway – like Jennifer Neri said in her comment, “It’s got nothing to do with my setting but with head space.  If [the writing]’s not coming, it won’t come anywhere unless I figure out why.”

That resonated with me – I keep trying to find someplace clean, uncluttered, without distraction.  What I realized, though, is that it has less to do with physical clutter and more to do with the mental clutter. 

I sat down at the library¹ this morning, determined to make much-needed headway.  I opened an outline² I created back in June, just to evaluate my progress and see where I should go next, since it has been a week since I wrote something solid on the novel.

Then, a breakthrough:  I’m overwhelmed.

I feel like I know my characters, that I’m doing them justice in my draft.  Looking back over that outline, though, what I hope to write and what I’m writing aren’t exactly the same thing.  

I know that in a novel, what the reader sees is just the tip of the iceberg of the character’s entire personhood.  I’m trying to bring their entire story above the surface through layered action or dialogue, conveying much meaning, so that no matter how much face time my characters are given, they have a story.

What I have right now is decent.  Not incredible, but decent.  I’m trying to weave a lot of threads but while I focus on one, others are left dangling.  There’s a fine balance between a rich story and a story in which you are bombarded with way too much.  Obviously, I’d rather have a rich story, but it takes a lot of work to weave so many threads in a way that comes off as seamless instead of frayed.  

My story is frayed right now, and I need to tighten it all up.  Then, I remembered: hey, wait.  No one says I have to complete the draft before I go back and evaluate what I have.  Why not give it a read-through and see what needs tightening, or if I’ve introduced a piece of neon orange string in an otherwise earth-toned tapestry?  After all, isn’t that the very definition of editing?  

Ahhhh.  I have a LOT of work to do.  It’s tempting, like I said, to hurl my computer to the cats and let them go at it like they do my feet.  But…no.  As much time as this will take to evaluate what’s good so far and what’s not, I’m itching to get started.  Then I’ll continue to write the draft.  From day one, I’ve said I’d rather write an amazing novel than a quick novel; I’m not one for mediocrity.

Though I have a lot to think about now, I don’t feel mentally cluttered anymore.  That problem eluded me for days.  Now that I know what it is, I think I could work on this thing with both cats in the room.  Fighting.  Any time of day.  With a mess all around me, hungry, and without my morning latte.  

Okay, I lied.  I’d need my latte.

¹And, side note?  Why have I lived in this town for a decade and never discovered the city library?  I’ve been to the libraries at the universities, but never the public one downtown.  It’s quiet and there are a lot of great tables and outlets.  As far as peaceful places go, this may be my new go-to spot of the moment.

²The document is a major-conflict-by-major-conflict outline that details what my main characters feel at those big points in the story, and how that motivates them to act next.  It’s super helpful for creating cohesion, and I got the idea from Karen Wiesner’s From First Draft to Finished Novel.

11 Responses to “Breakthrough!”

  1. Linda Friday / 25 September 09 at 12:17 pm #

    You see, this is one of the reasons I edit as I go. Sometimes I can’t move forward until I’m sure what I’ve already written is fairly well in order. Sometimes I loose my “train of thought” so to speak, and need to go back and read to get back into character.

    There’s a purpose to these slow periods. Sometimes you have to wait to be refilled.

    • owlandsparrow Sunday / 27 September 09 at 11:08 am #

      I’ve been hesitant to edit as I go because I can tend to be a perfectionist. That said, I think it’s necessary to stop and evaluate to make sure, like you said, what I’ve written is fairly in order.

      It’s not so much that I get out of character, but more along the lines that my characters have gone on too many unplanned tangents lately. That could be a great thing, or it could lead to a story wholly other than I planned. I just want to make sure those scenes have purpose, that I can work them in to my plan – or make a new plan – before I continue in that direction.

  2. islesam Friday / 25 September 09 at 1:11 pm #

    Oh, I’m so happy to hear the skies have cleared! There is almost nothing better than figuring out what is going on & how to fix it. Novels are so much more intense than people give them credit for.

    • owlandsparrow Sunday / 27 September 09 at 11:10 am #

      Thanks for the encouragement, Melissa! So true. Once there’s a finished product, you don’t get to see how many drafts and re-writes went into making it streamlined.

  3. J.C Friday / 25 September 09 at 2:56 pm #

    Happy to hear you’ve found a way forward, even if it means going back initially 🙂

    • owlandsparrow Sunday / 27 September 09 at 11:11 am #

      Thanks, J.C. – me, too. I’ve been so motivated, and productive, ever since I realized what the problem was.

  4. Merrilee Friday / 25 September 09 at 6:27 pm #

    I understand this feeling, but I do things differently 🙂 I was on to draft three of the novel before I figured out the story and the characters. From that point though, it was simply a matter of sitting down and writing to the end. And I know there are holes and flappy plot threads all over the place. But it’s so much easier (for me) to work on a finished draft than go back mid-novel to edit.

    But everyone has different techniques! The important thing is finding what works for you.

    The only caveat I have is that if, after all your editing, you are still spinning your wheels, I strongly recommend just pushing forward to the end, warts and all. The danger of stopping to edit as you go is that you can easily go around in circles without making real progress. But try it first; it works for plenty of writers.

    Good luck! I’ll be watching 🙂

    • owlandsparrow Friday / 25 September 09 at 7:53 pm #

      Great comment, Merrilee, thanks for your thoughts. I’m definitely leery of stopping to edit – after all, I’ve been a push-straight-through girl throughout both of my drafts so far. In light of that, I made a list of about ten specific things I’m checking for on this read-through, instead of wandering in blind and letting myself drown in all the things that could be changed. You’re so right, there is a real danger of spinning in circles and making no progress! After I check the ten things on my list, and evaluate what is/isn’t working, I plan to jump right back in and press on with the actual writing.

      I saw on your blog (the twitter feed) that you’re super close to your own finish line – so wonderful! Can’t wait to someday read about Jin, Camar, and of course, the aliens.

  5. Laura Best Saturday / 26 September 09 at 11:50 am #

    Glad to hear you you’re back on track. Don’t worry about your meager word count. I’m suddenly reminded of a quote by author Bernice Thermon Hunter, which goes something like this:” A marathon is won one step at a time just as a novel is written one word at a time.”

    • owlandsparrow Sunday / 27 September 09 at 11:12 am #

      Such freedom, Laura! Thank you for sharing that quote with me, it’s sometimes easy to forget! 🙂 One step at a time is still progress, and that’s comforting.


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