Wow… Where did the last five weeks go?
When I last posted, I was reeling from the havoc having surgery had wreaked on my NaNoWriMo plans. Since then, I persevered and squeaked in a “win” under the wire (with four hours of editing left to do on the last day of the month, I completed them with about three-and-a-half hours to spare); written consistently for my other, almost three-year-old blog; and kept up (barely) with my family’s schedule of travel, health issues, and various extracurricular activities.
So what’s the state of my novel, you may ask? Thanks to the huge amount of work I put in during November, it’s getting much closer to the end of Round Two major revisions. No, I’m not going to make it by the end of the year like I told my Editor (oops). However, at our most recent meeting, my CPs told me that the third of my four subsections is working pretty well. There’s pacing! There’s clear motivation! There’s characterization! It was quite a rush to realize I was nearing the finish line on those chapters.
Of course, there’s still work to do. As we were leaving, one CP mentioned that the second subsection still had some more serious issues to resolve, so my Optimistic outlook was summarily downgraded back to Cautiously Optimistic. Looking over her notes, though, I don’t think there’s anything insurmountable there. In fact, the suggested changes are drastically less severe than the ones I’ve already made. I dare to hope that I’m making something akin to real progress.
Speaking of progress, those last, frantic hours of NaNoWriMo led to some conceptual breakthroughs for my finale. There’s an entire extra, interstitial chapter for me to write now, linking the end of that third subsection and the beginning of the fourth. Finding a balance between polishing what’s already there and creating new material has been a challenge, but I’ve approached it like much of the rest of the revision process: identify something that makes me want to work on it, and milk that for all it’s worth.
If I can ride this I’m-making-progress high through the end of the year, I might actually get this revision in the can by the end of January! Now I just need you readers to hold me accountable…
Engineer new plot direction #1: check!
When my CPs and I sat down a few weeks ago and had a long discussion about how to improve the plot from where it sat in my latest draft, there were a heckuva lot of new elements to incorporate. I was so energized (and overwhelmed!) by that conversation that I could hardly wait to get back to work. The overall story would be so much better after all these enhancements had been integrated into the novel!
Then Real Life got the better of me, as it is prone to do. Partway into my foray into the first plotting change, I got derailed by a combination of daily minutiae, big news in my fandom of choice, and the introduction of a new dog into our family. Suddenly fixing the transition from the first to second acts paled in comparison to getting bills paid on time, watching recovered episodes not seen in forty-five years, and snuggling with a ridiculously cute canine.
Finally I carved out time to get back to it. Now I had to be conscious of the new perspective from which I was writing, but for the most part, it was the change in direction I’d hashed out with my CPs at the heart of the revisions. It’s amazing how a relatively small change propagates throughout one’s manuscript. ~sigh~
But I’ve done it! I’ve made that first big change and polished up the beginning chapters of the novel to send back to my CPs for review. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ve done enough, and I can finally—finally—put Part the First behind me for Round Two of major revisions. Because I have just made it back into a groove.
I’m ready to write.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling with an idea. Being completely new to the industry from the content-provider’s side of things, it’s only recently that I’ve paid any attention to SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, a professional organization for authors). I’ve been seeing a lot about the need for diversity in the genre (specifically, via the Twitter hashtag #DiversityinSFF), which got me thinking about my own work in progress (WIP).
As is stands, my WIP has a main character (MC) who is a straight, white, cisgendered, abled, educated, young American woman. In other words, she’s very much like me (with the possible exception of the “young” descriptor, since she’s 10-15 years my junior). So I’ve been wondering: does she have to be all of those things? Is there any reason not to change one or more of those descriptors?
More importantly, is there any reason to change one?
Because I am a brand, spankin’ new writer, working on my first-ever novel, it’s only natural—comfortable—that I would choose to write from the POV of someone very like myself. Writing is hard enough without throwing in something with which I have zero personal experience. “Write what you know,” and all that.
But as I analyzed the story I hope to tell with this character after my current WIP is done (or as “done” as it’s likely to get), it dawned on me that there is a fairly compelling reason to consider changing her ethnic background for the next book. Obviously, that means I’d need to change it now. Is it worth it?
I brought this conundrum to my CPs for advice. We talked about the pros and cons, and in the way I’m developing my particular “near Earth” world for the future of my character. We talked about the dangers of “getting it wrong” (which, let’s be honest, boil down to whether or not I do my research), and how it would serve the upcoming story if I did change my MC.
Oddly, it turned out changing my MC to someone with a different background from mine might actually enhance the tension in my current WIP, too. There’s nothing specifically that hinges on her being a POC—which makes sense, since that’s not how I first wrote her—but certain relationships and situations would, of necessity, affect her differently, coming from an alternate perspective.
My original intention was to challenge my own tendencies to write someone almost exactly like myself, try writing outside my comfort zone, and maybe help add a bit of diversity to the body of work in the genre. If I can do my MC justice as a woman of color, I really think this WIP will be richer for it.
I just hope I hope I don’t screw up.
Yesterday I emailed my CPs with an uncomfortable confession: I didn’t have anything new for them to read for our next meeting. Since their feedback on a full draft, I’ve been spinning my wheels in the revision mud; I just can’t get any traction on rearranging, cutting, and adding the necessary plot points. But today I had a minor breakthrough.
As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been trying to cut off relatively bite-sized chunks of novel on which to focus; right now, it’s those troublesome opening chapters. My CPs have accurately pointed out that the action is quite slow to build, and suggested one plot thread that could be moved up as a way to counteract that problem. So, dutifully ripping the old plot structure to tatters, I started writing a new scene to introduce said thread three chapters earlier.
There was a spot that struck me as needing some low-grit PlotPaper™ to smooth it out, so naturally I began there. Excising lines that no longer fit, I began to weave in my new narrative. Eventually I got in a groove, and before I knew it I had over 1400 new words. I just had to find a way to make the scene fit seamlessly with what I already had, and I was golden.
That’s when inspiration hit. I’d sewn my new scene into the wrong part of the chapter!
Giddy with my discovery, I made another copy and started hacking the chapter apart again. The new scene went here, the pieces I’d been sad to take out went back in there… And now an issue I’d had in a completely different point in the novel—again, with the placement of a new scene relative to old material—melted away. Everything seemed to slot naturally into place.
I’m doing my best to ride the high of this tiny triumph. Heaven knows it’s not likely to last long. As soon as I show my changes to my CPs they’ll probably have insightful reasons I’ve not yet considered as to why this arrangement isn’t optimal, either. But when you’ve been slogging through the trenches of revisions and gaining no ground, any little advance is cause for celebration; I’m taking my victories where I can.
Time to reward myself with another pot of coffee!
Did I mention I need to work on my storytelling?
This week, for the first time since surgery, I had the chance to meet with my CPs again. I was both excited and overwhelmed by our session; as usual, I drew much-needed energy from our conversation, but it’s hard not to feel like I’m facing an insurmountable task. Why? Because, dear readers, they read a draft of the whole novel. If you’re a writer and you don’t think that’s a scary idea, then you’re made of sterner stuff than I.
Realistically, they were quite gentle with me. I knew going into the exercise that the manuscript was deeply flawed in some respects. After all, that’s the point of having CPs—to show you where the shortcomings of your work are, and offer potential solutions. So the fact that they didn’t immediately hate the core ideas of the story was, in and of itself, a win.
But there’s still a helluva lot of work to be done. The beginning is way too slow. The ending is way too fast. Too much exposition (nice stuff, but it doesn’t draw the reader into the story). Not enough tension (one enticing plot thread is barely explored). In other words, it’s still a hot mess.
I went into our meeting knowing that (1) this is where my Round Two major rewrite would come in, (2) there were plotting and pacing problems with at least the last several chapters, and (3) I haven’t yet got a good grip on storytelling. Even when prepared, though, having so many flaws pointed out to you in gory detail is ego-bruising, at best. (At worst, it makes you—or at least me—want to bury the files somewhere deep on the hard drive, to be lost in the mists of time.)
It doesn’t matter how accurate or insightful or useful the feedback, when you’ve put so much of yourself into a piece, hearing that it needs changes—many, extensive changes, at that—can feel like someone just sliced you open from navel to throat. Perhaps I’m being overdramatic (it wouldn’t be the first time a writer had done that), but I’ve never been one of those people who can easily separate herself from her work.
All of this adds to my general ennui regarding my writing. Aside from being the latest installment in a series of “let’s keep that ego in check!” events, it’s thrown a wrench into my longer-term plans. There is so much to do to get this novel’s quality raised even as far as “un-awful” that I’m not going to have time for anything else for the foreseeable future. I’d hoped to use the next two months to plot out its sequel, since”pants-ing” my way through clearly hasn’t worked very well. Instead, it looks like I’ll be skipping NaNoWriMo this year.
Now to perform some First Aid on my ego and get back to Round Two…