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.