Friday, December 28, 2012
Birth of a Novel: In the thick of it
At times, I feel like the Dunkin Donuts guy from those commercials in the 80s and 90s. "Time to write the novel," I groan, dragging myself to my laptop. Writing is hard, lonely and often unending work. Even when I finish PINCH OF THIS, I'll start another manuscript...okay, okay, I've got two others sitting open on my laptop begging to be finished as well. There are days that writing feels a lot more like work than others.
Somewhere between the 10,000 and 20,000 word mark, I hit a wall. The story stops making sense, I've lost track of what I the point I was making with all this, I consider making massive changes or scrapping the project altogether. Happens every single time. Having the experience of more than a dozen books under my belt helps me talk myself down from the heights of panic, but this loss of focus and inspiration used to leave me cold for days or weeks at a time when I first started writing.
Here's where I am with PINCH OF THIS: I'm 20,000 words in. I've got my characters' motivations and backstory down. I've got them acting out their wildest fantasies, but I just don't know why they started this journey. Does it even really make sense or did I use a device to push things along? And then there's Octavio from the first part of the tale. I really liked him so wouldn't Jennifer really like him and want to keep in touch? And would William really break down in tears at this point and explore his feelings of inadequacy after being fired? I mean he has to break down at some point and realize how emotionally unavailable he's been. Doesn't he? I just don't know.
So what do when you've hit the wall? First of all--don't panic. It's a natural part of writing and you will get through it if you don't give up. Two, if possible, stick to your guns. Push through a few days and stay the course. If that doesn't work, make minor changes and I cannot stress the word minor enough. There's nothing worse than slashing and burning at this point. That will only lead to massive re-writes which can lead to an endless loop of re-writes. Try tweaking your vision a little here and there and see if that clears the way.
Also, it might be time to phone a friend. Enlist your beta reader to read what you've written up to this point and offer an unbiased opinion. Or you can just discuss the project with another writer or your crit group (if you belong to one) and brainstorm a solution.
If absolutely necessary, step away from the book for a day...maybe two, but be careful this sabbatical doesn't turn into months of inactivity. I often work through a plot snag while kneading bread dough. Not sure why this works, but manual labor in general seems to get the creative juices flowing. Before I know it, I'm at the laptop typing with my elbows because I didn't want to stop and wash the flour from my hands lest I lose the thread of thought that will pull everything together.
Above all, don't give up. I know I sound like a broken record, but when asked how I write so much I reply, "I just write. Everyday." Good, bad or ugly, I keep doing it. Have faith that the clouds will part and you'll feel the light of a finished manuscript on your face.
Next time, I'll talk about the end game. How to finish up that novel and know where to stop.