It feels like a breakup, and I’ll admit I’ve been a little mopey about it for a couple of days. But my mind is made up.
After nearly six years together, my first all-but-complete novel and I are taking a break.
The project began as nugget of a thought which turned into a daydream which I then outlined and then fleshed out a little bit more. It stalled out once, but then I picked it back up as a NaNoWriMo 2015 project and raced to the end of my first first-draft, pretty darn proud of myself.
Of course, it needed some polishing and I knew there was hard work left to be done. I was also pretty sure I could be ready to start querying agents that spring, followed shortly thereafter by a Twitter announcement about securing one such agent. Then there’d be a fun cover reveal, a launch party, the announcement of book tour dates, etc.
I wouldn’t quit my day job, though. That’d come after the sequel.
Things haven’t worked out quite like that, as you can imagine, but I’ve learned a lot. The project itself––with the help of a half dozen beta-readers, a developmental edit, and some pretty rigorous workshopping over the course of a couple years––looks very little like it did back then. Poor Mike has dutifully read at least four different versions, and the current one would be all but unrecognizable to him. The list of people I tracked for including in the acknowledgments has grown to be nearly as long as my arm.
In that time, I’ve written and junked entire chapters and rewritten others and shoehorned new ones in to fill holes I somehow missed the first seven dozen drafts. I’ve written and thrown away hundreds of thousands of words between outlining and drafting and editing and revising. I’ve fallen in and out of love with my characters too many times to count. I painted myself into stupid corners. I’ve incorporated twists and turns in the story, sometimes (many times) enough I can’t keep my own plotline straight.
I’ve renamed major characters and given them new backgrounds and identities on inspired whims. I’ve pictured who would play each character in the movie version of my book and pictured myself being frustrated I didn’t have more creative input on the final version, but was happy to be invited to the premier.
I love complex narratives and great world building. For any story to be satisfying to me, the answers cannot come too easily nor should everything to be explained too thoroughly. But in looking to create my own version of that, I ended up with a semi-inspired hot mess of a murder mystery-slash-coming of age story set in the near future. On a space station.
That description makes it sound better than it is.
It does have good bones, though, including some plot lines that at one time seemed fantastical and far-fetched. There’s a pandemic, even. A freaking virus outbreak, you guys. And all I can say in hindsight is: Boy, have I misjudged how that kind of scenario would go down.
I’ve learned a lot, not the least of which is my lack of ability to retain details, and my capacity to read and reread a sentence and work it to death. I’ve boned up on the publishing industry. I’ve curated lists of agents and editors and publishers and kept track of their manuscript wish lists. I’ve read dozens of young adult science fiction novels with female protagonists and learned which authors are industry darlings right now and which you should never, ever list as comps because that’ll earn you an automatic rejection.
And by the way, I’ve learned there’s a LOT of drama in the publishing industry. Enough for reality TV, maybe, except I’m not sure how one might pitch that show …
Writer: Okay, picture a woman. She’s sitting at a keyboard, unshowered, wearing sweats, a messy bun, and glasses. Maybe there’s a pencil tucked behind one ear.
TV Exec: What’s she doing?
Writer: Well, most of the time she’s scrolling Twitter aimlessly, but sometimes she’s banging on a keyboard in a fury. Once in a while we see her hugging her cat, smack in the middle of some kind of existential crisis or another. Most of the time, though, it’s twitter. But sometimes, sometimes …. * frames imaginary scene with hands* … sometimes she’s staring off into space with a blank expression.
TV Exec: …
Writer: Did I mention there’s a pencil? Behind the ear?
Okay, maybe not.
I’ve alternated between feeling like a poser and then a fraud and then an artist over this project, and recently I realized I am just plain tired of it. I am rarely a dnf kind of gal, but there’s no getting around it. My precious book and I need a break.
My next project is going to be simpler; tight and fast-paced with details I don’t lose track of or characters whose motivations fluctuate depending on 3 AM inspirations. My protagonist will do what I say, my villain will be sufficiently villainous, and nobody will stray from the storyline or keep me up, worrying. Information drops will be judiciously spread out rather than dumped on the reader at any point. Little things will be resolved all along instead of all at once at the end.
What will it be? Well, earlier this week, I got up and looked through my files for a project I remember outlining furiously after someone online mentioned wanting to see something like a Spaghetti Western space Odyssey, like Firefly meets Bladerunner.
And all at once that old thrill is BACK, and I’ve been researching and compiling and plotting again. Instead of moping the floors this weekend like I’d planned, I typed and typed and typed more than 10,000 words in the course of three days, and there’s more ready to bubble up.
And I’m not setting myself for disappointment. Not this time. No visualizing the movie version of anything. I’m just going to hunker down and do the work and see where all the lessons I’ve learned take me. I’m not going to spend a bunch of time imagining an agent signing, or in planning a launch party.
I do have a kickass dress picked out for the movie premier, though.