I’ve been struggling with my latest work-in-progress, the suspense novel Jeanne Dark, despite the fact that I know and like the characters and have plotted the entire book. Indeed, as I told Maria tonight, I feel like my characters have become impatient with me, egging me on to write the damned book already. So, I’m writing. It’s an interesting dilemma, as writing is only as fluid as the process, and my current process isn’t fluid at all. Despite that, and due mostly to how much I’ve written in recent years, I’m managing to write with a modicum of lyricism. The book isn’t yet the jazz song I hope it to be when I’m done, but at least I’m laying out the basic chords of the thing. The music will flow in editing.
What I realized, after much rumination and endless whinging at my too-patient partner, is that my reason for writing and my process have changed. While I come up with a new process, it will be a struggle, I suppose.
I started writing in earnest in November 2009, after the breakup of my marriage, mostly as therapy and something to do. I’d been writing poetry on and off since 1981, but my two attempts to write fiction consisted of very poorly written short stories I’d never let anyone read. They were bad enough that more than twenty years passed before I tried to write again. In the interim period, an interesting thing happened: I spent years writing reports and proposals for work, in which I learned to tell a story with as few words as possible, in a clear, straightforward way. That turned out to be what I’d lacked in my short stories before. So, in 2008, at the suggestion of my then-wife, I penned a short story based on a dream I once had.
I’m not being figurative here; that was the story.
It was funny, silly, and imaginative. In fact, she and my stepdaughter loved it. Not long after, within a year of my marriage, and days before my birthday, my wife left. I was devastated, in no small part because she was my best friend. Needing something to do when I wasn’t at work, I decided to try NaNoWriMo. Write 50,000 words in a month? Why the hell not? The fact that I’d not written more than 5,000 words of fiction in my life didn’t daunt me at all. This, after all, would take all my free time and imagination.
To my great surprise, writing was as effortless to me as talking. (If you know me personally, you’ll understand the humor in that statement.) I went to work everyday, worked 50 hours or so, and then came home and worked on “my book.” I was rolling. In fact, I later won an award at work for my on-the-job performance. I carried the same self-discipline into my writing, setting aside time to write every day, and working 4-8 hours a day on weekends. I achieved my NaNo goal on the first try, penning more than 60,000 words of The Stream in November. I had a pretty good plot outline, a book on how to lay out a novel, and no clue regarding anything else. It was wonderful.
I continued writing through December at the same clip, writing at least 5 days per week, and wrapped up my novel in January 2010. It was well over 150,000 words. That’s great, right? Well, no. Subsequent research assured me that no one would ever read a first novel that long, least of all any agent on Earth. I was discouraged for about a week, and then set on the task of seeing if I could break my masterpiece into two books. It wasn’t easy. Book 1 needed an ending that actually seemed like an ending, and Book 2 needed a beginning. I pulled out 6 or 7 chapters, and added others. By the time I’d finished, I had 6 complete drafts, but the two books were done: Discovery and Awakening.
Although I never thought of it before today, they were aptly named. I’d discovered who I was. The books had awakened in me what had been missing my whole life: I was an artist who worked, not a worker who on occasion, dabbled in the arts.
But now that phase of my life is over, and I’ve begun a new change. I suppose I’m the Changeling in my new version of The Stream. My writing process is vastly different than it was. I’ll write about that next, I suppose. My motivation for writing is different too. The only thing that remains is that my characters are real, not living in my head, but accessible via my imaginings. I’ll be finishing Foster and Jeanne’s book this summer, because they are taking up too much of my focus, and I have others to deal with.
Hang on Foss. It’s a struggle, again, and for the first time, but I’m good now, for the time, too.