Most of you know that I’ve been working on a novel that attacked me about six weeks ago. Yes, attacked is the correct verb because that is exactly what it did. At the time, I was almost 50,000 words into a suspense novel I’d been working on — and was late delivering — and had finally figured out what the problem was. Then, during the middle of the night, the stealth novel hit. It’s obvious now, in retrospect, that the plot had been percolating in the back of my mind for awhile. But when it first hit, all I knew was that it came storming into my head and took over.
In the time since I’ve started “seriously” writing — in other words, actually letting my babies go instead of hiding them under the bed — my writing process has been fairly consistent. An idea would come to me, I’d make a few plot notes (usually somewhere between 5 – 10 pages) and I’d sit down and write. The actual writing process consisted of sitting somewhere with my laptop or, when I still used a desktop, pulling out the wireless keyboard and working. Pen and paper were relegated to those times when something would come to me as I worked that I wanted to jot down so I didn’t forget it.
But not this book. Oh, no. This book turned my process upside down. For one thing, it is the closest thing to actually pantsing a novel I’ve done since the days when I was writing and shoving everything under the bed. To be honest, I’d quit being a true pantser long before then. By the time Sarah forced me to show her something I’d written, I’d started the move to what is part pantser and part plotter.
As I said, this book didn’t want to tell me what was going to happen from one chapter to the next. Because of that — and because it required me to write each chapter out longhand before either dictating it into Dragon or transcribing it — I fought this book tooth and nail. Sarah has listened to me whine and bitch and the nicest thing I’ve called it is the dreckish of dreck. Why? Because it wasn’t conforming to the process I was comfortable with and because it wasn’t exactly the sort of story I’ve written before.
But I pushed through. Part of the reason is because the book just wouldn’t leave me alone. Usually when a plot hits me like this I can make a few notes or write a few pages and it will go back to sleep until I have time to get to it. This one wouldn’t. It took all my other projects hostage, tied them up, gagged them and locked them in the basement. Whenever I balked at finishing, it threatened to take one of my other projects and drop it down a deep, dark well.
So I kept at it and I finished the novel the end of last week. I put it aside for several days and gave my head time to come up for air. I worked in the yard, did some work around the house and some much needed work on an author event our friends of the library group is hosting this Saturday.
And I discovered this book continues to break the rules I’d become comfortable with.
Morbid curiosity had me breaking my first rule of editing. I never, ever look at something I’ve written unless there is at least a week in between finishing writing and when I print the pages out. My preference is to let the novel sit for a month. That gives me the mental space I need to look at what I’ve written with fresh eyes and that, in turn, lets me see what is on the page and not what I think is on the page. I’ve found this has helped me realize when information is only in my head and not on the page for the reader. It also helps me see technical problems that need to be fixed.
But, staying true to form, this book poked and prodded at me enough yesterday morning that I converted it and put it on my kindle. Okay, I’ll admit it, I also printed it out, but those pages are pretty much untouched so far. I can’t say the same for the kindle version of the rough draft.
What I discovered has been interesting. It didn’t take long to realize I’d dropped two cookie crumbs that help explain the main character’s motivation. The problem is that I didn’t pick them up later. So I’ve made notes about where to go back in and correct that problem. I might not have left Johnny hanging off the cliff at the end of chapter 3, but these little bits will make the main character’s motivations more understandable. I also have another character’s father being dead at the beginning of the book. Later, he and the character’s mother are in Ireland and later still they are in Florida. So, either the mother travels a lot and carries hubby’s ashes — or body — with her or dear old Dad is a zombie. While either explanation would fit another book that has been on the back burner for awhile, it doesn’t fit this one. So, I’ve made a note to go in and fix that as well. Of course, there are also the inevitable comma faults and misspellings to correct, but that is part of my life.
Those problems aside — and they are typical of what a lot of pantsers encounter on the first edit pass — the book doesn’t suck. Mind you, I’m my own worst critic and I know it. So this feeling that what I’ve written, and fought at every step along the way, isn’t horrible is new. It is also scary. I can’t help wondering if I’m just deluding myself and this book is the worst thing I’ve ever done. There is the very real desire to shove the book under the bed — or, better yet, to use it as fuel for a bonfire — and never let it see the light of day. But I won’t, at least not yet. I’ll send it off to my beta readers after I finish the first edits. It will be up to them to tell me if it is a cabbage or a worse.
But before I do that, I have to finish the edits and I will be adding the first chapter or two to another book at the end. I can hear you guys asking why I’m doing that when I’m seriously considering burning the manuscript. The answer is multi-fold. When I write, even if I’m on the first draft of something, I tend to put it into a format as close to conversion ready as possible. If I’m OCD about anything, it’s that. For another, if the betas like the novel I’m sending them, I want to know if they’d: 1) read the sample chapters, 2) if the sample chapters are interesting enough or intriguing enough that they’d go looking for the book they are excerpted from, and 3) if the answer to the first two is “yes”, then it will make me have to finish the book the chapters are excerpted from.
And, yes, the real reason is that this latest novel has informed me it is the first of a series and I’m hoping that by writing the opening chapter or two of the next book, it will behave better than this particular book has and will let me finish the project that was interrupted. No, I’m not holding my breath, but I am hoping.