On starting (my novel) all over
I finished my NaNoWriMo novel 5 months ago, almost to the day. In the following weeks I was MOTIVATED. I was going to EDIT THE HELL out of this thing and get it ready for beta readers by the end of January.
Then our beloved dog, Scorch, got sick. And my writing took a back seat to the job of keeping her alive. Ultimately nothing we did could stop her from passing away this March. I started dealing with my own health issues in late January- which have mostly resolved finally.
Since December, I've thought about writing many times... Mostly to chastise myself for not writing.
All you have to do is sit down at the keyboard and write something, anything I'd tell myself. It's not that hard- you've done it before and you can do it again.
I'd sit down and nothing would come out.
I felt as though I had nothing to say.
I felt like nothing really mattered.
It's easy to see depression in hindsight. There's a difference, though, between seeing it and being able to do something about it.
I've talked a few times about needing to rewrite my NaNo novel. With distance, the flaws are evident.
The main character being a member of the department she's working against? Not nearly as interesting as if she were a former member of the department- aware of all the flaws and already on their radar as a problem.
The dead boyfriend? I made him too perfect to the point he's like a Ken doll, smooth and plastic and void of personality.
The group of friends at the lake with the dead boyfriend the night of the murder? They need reasons to be apart when the murder takes place, a reason to suspect each other even if they refuse to speak those fears out loud.
The list goes on, but the takeaway is the book needs a complete gut job. At this point, it's not a matter of editing individual chapters, but of starting completely over.
There is something daunting about editing already written chapters. You always wonder if you're making the draft better. In the immortal words of Stephen King:
“Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”
If editing already written work is daunting, starting over from scratch feels like a fool's errand.
How many other jobs or tasks in the world does one finish completely and then throw away?
I do a write-in with Sisters in Crime whenever I get the chance. During the write-in this morning I told our host, Tracee de Hahn, about my plans to rewrite the book.
Her response made me more sure than ever that I was doing the right thing by starting over. She said if it's something where you are changing the characters and story dramatically, it's better to start over than to rewrite individual chapters. You can always go back and take things you like from the original draft.
I'm taking her advice, and my instincts, to heart. I am starting my novel again almost from scratch.
I have a new opening line (which I love): "The worst moment of her young life began with the shrill ringing of the diner telephone while she was wrist-deep in dirty dishwater."
Novels are living, breathing things when you're working on them. They change seemingly on their own with very little input from the writer.
I'm excited to see how this one grows up and what it will become.
Quote from ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft