My WIP is a whopping 101,000+ word draft that I wrote over a year ago. It has been tapping its fingers and twirling its hair while waiting for my return. Mold me into something much, much prettier, it demands. It looks something like this, but at least my hands aren’t empty:
Often this WIP pulls me in. I feel giddy about having this new world to rule over and I relish the endless possibilities. It’s freeing! It’s not boring, it’s not routine, and it’s not math! I marvel at what comes out of my own brain—brand new people who didn’t exist before I created them and all the darkness and light leaking out of my unconscious. I lose time. This part of the experience is uniquely and selfishly mine—well before I’m at the point when I’m seeking beta readers and biting my nails when I find some.
It’s exciting, but that high fizzles. I know it’s gone when suddenly I’m scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, online instant pot recipes, and/or expert articles about HOW TO GET YOUR PUPPY TO STOP PEEING ON THE CARPET IN FRONT OF THE BACK DOOR (yes, that search is done in all caps). It’s so overwhelming trying to form something meaningful out of nothing. It seems I can’t make my new book beautiful enough. I can’t move myself.
I miss my old book, UNKNOWN HERO, and it takes a lot of effort not to open up that file and let it consume me. We’ve been through a whole lot together. I miss my old characters. I’m not quite at home with these new guys in my WIP just yet. I really like them a lot, and I’m getting to know them better, but it’s like I transferred to a new school.
I keep thinking: You’re certain you can’t open your heart to a new dog after the beloved old one dies, but you can. (Even with the housebreaking ISSUES, in caps.) You worry you won’t love your second child as much as your first, but you absolutely do. Is it the same with a new book?
I recently met with a college friend so we could write together. I stared at my computer screen completely befuddled and said, “At this point, I honestly can’t believe I ever wrote a full novel—then queried and got an agent. It seems impossible.”
She responded, “That’s the way I felt about my first marathon. I couldn’t believe I did it. So I had to run another one to prove to myself that I could.”
Um, what? Wait—is it possible that I might have to write another complete book—one that not only makes some sense but is revised and polished—so I can prove to myself that I can do this?
UNKNOWN HERO wasn’t technically my first book. My first book (aka 100,000 Words of Shame) was written years ago and is lost somewhere on my now defunct iPad. It begins with an angst-ridden teenager in a car on the way to school, has no chapter breaks, and never needs to be found. After I wrote it, I let it sit for a while untouched, because that’s what the experts said to do. Then I reread that thing with my hopes too high and laughed/cried through all of it. I may have quit trying to write novels altogether if I hadn’t gotten to about the 80,000 word mark, and realized—oh my God—a story started. It took me 80,000 words to find any kind of plot or character development.
It wasn’t the same with UNKNOWN HERO, because I was one hundred times wiser about how to organize a whole book. I had a good sense of the story I wanted to tell—no, a passion for it. I knew where I wanted it to start and I knew where I wanted it to end. Still, when I stop to think about it, I realize I have thrown thousands of words away. Up to 80,000? Maybe. The book evolved so much. I erased characters, bad writing, and unnecessary scenes that did nothing for the story as a whole. I also cut truly important scenes that no one else will ever read, but they are still part of the story and part of my inspiration. They are in my head and heart and I know these things happened to my characters, whether it’s on the page or not.
Funny thing is, I consider myself more of a plotter than a pantser, but this still happened to me.
This time around writing a book, I do hope I’ll be more efficient with my time. (Okay, I’m actually reading a nonfiction book right now to help me be more efficient.) Still, I should probably accept that this meme below is gonna happen, maybe in draft two, draft three, and so on:
Most of UNKNOWN HERO’s sometimes pretty and often frustrating loops and tangles didn’t make it into the final version. But some did. Some of those unexpected twists and turns became diamonds in my final draft. And I realize now that those diamonds that seemingly showed up out of nowhere only fueled my passion for the story.
Carlton Cuse, screenwriter and producer of Lost, probably said it better than I did:
The creative process is not like a situation where you get struck by a single lightning bolt. You have ongoing discoveries, and there’s ongoing creative revelations. Yes, it’s really helpful to be marching toward a specific destination, but, along the way, you must allow yourself room for your ideas to blossom, take root, and grow.
It’s hard not to focus on the end product—especially after you’ve written a first book, and you know eventually you’ll show this new one to other people, too. You can’t shake the worry that you’re putting time and effort (and yourself!) into something that might flop. You know you need to work faster and smarter, and this is a new kind of pressure.
But would runners still run if they weren’t training for a marathon? Most I know do, and talk about that runner’s high. Would I still write if I didn’t have this ultimate goal of being published? Yes. Maybe not novels, but I have been writing creatively my whole life. Because there is meaning in the process—without an obsessive focus on the end goal. And I know that writing 80,000 terrible words helped me write 80,000 words that I love.
So this is what I’m reminding myself today:
The process is therapeutic.
It is how I practice and learn.
It helps me solve problems—and not just plot holes. I’m talking big life dilemmas.
Creating something ugly and useless is not just okay. It can be good for me.
I know I’m repeating the wisdom of others before me here, but it’s the truth: If it’s an easy journey, the end product won’t mean as much to me (or to anyone).
…And now back to that WIP. One of my main characters informed me that he needs to be a second POV. Who am I to argue with him?