Interruptions

I recently finished a book. It was a feeling of great relief, since I had begun to wonder if I would ever finish it. I’m still a relatively new writer, and I was slowly convincing myself that the other books had been a fluke. I couldn’t do this, I wasn’t a real writer… It took me two years to finish this book, when it had taken me at most six months to complete one before. It’s probably understandable that it made me feel like a failure, looking back, but while I was in it I lacked the perspective.

It was a learning process. I learned that I could keep writing after life-changing interruptions. I learned that I could hold a story in my head for that long. As a pantser, I didn’t think that was possible. Sometimes in this process I would put my head on the keyboard and wonder why I was bothering with this hot mess. As a result, I wound up with not one, but three alpha readers. The First Reader, who had come up with the original story idea, was too close to it. The others helped me regain confidence in the story which let me finish it. I couldn’t have done this without their encouragement.

The story went off to beta readers a week ago, and reader reports have been trickling back in. To my relief, they are all positive, with small problems that can readily be repaired. The story isn’t broken.

It would have been easy for me to break the story. Erratic pacing, that left readers bored or confused in turns. Pacing problems would have required major manuscript surgery – not fun when you are dealing with more than 100k words. I had been worried that would be a problem so I had written it in chapters, not my usual procedure. This enabled me to look back and plot the arcs when I returned from an interruption and then have a better feeling for where I was.

Uneven development of character was another concern, as the story pivots around a young man who must grow into his role. Just like in real life, I wanted to show him try, slip up, and finally come to a place where his confidence was not self-concious. Characters are easy to make succeed. You’re the author, you have omnipotence in the book. Forcing it, though, leads to unbelievable characters who are too good to be true – or whiny useless characters in roles that leave you wondering how they got there, much less were kept in it.

Finally, and the place where I do have work ahead of me… Foreshadowing. Years ago, when I was a dewy-eyed writer, I sent my baby manuscript, my first book, off to my mentors. In return I got a coconut off the noggin. I knew it was delivered in love, so I just rubbed the knot on my head, made a coconut cream pie, and went back over the book. My foreshadowing did suck, and being told that by a man who is superb at it didn’t hurt (much). I’ve got a pretty thick skin. This book (which I wouldn’t bother the coconut-thrower with, his life is even busier than mine in the decade that has passed) took two years to grow from planned short story for an anthology that died, into a planned series. I literally had no idea, when I wrote the first scene, where it was going. Or I was.

Now, I have to go back and weave in hints of what is to come, but not big whopping clues. I have to decide if I will include part or the whole of Jade Star, which takes place in this same universe, and is a story told to my main character in the book I’ve just finished. I have to be sure there are loose ends to tie on the next book to the events of this one, but not so many the reader is left unsatisfied. Just writing the end doesn’t mean you’re finished!

But in the meantime, there are interruptions. Real life intrudes. I have begun working on the next books, or rather one insistent story and three novels. I can’t write all of them at once, I’m simply waiting for the dominant story to come to the forefront and writing on them in turn until then. To facilitate, I’m reading for research. This book can’t take me two years to finish. It just can’t, because I don’t think I could go through that again. I need to write.

 

22 Comments

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22 responses to “Interruptions

  1. Pingback: Oh, Hey! – Cedar Writes

  2. It may not feel like it right now, what with a still new husband, kids, one homeschooling, job hunting . . .

    But when I got my first regular job, the first thing I noticed was . . . no homework! Working is a whole bunch different than college. Heck, they pay you instead of the other way around. Wonderful!

  3. Oh, and holding an idea in your head for years? I was a champion daydreamer before some people–yes the one armed with coconuts was prominent in the mob–convinced me to start putting things down on paper. Yeah, my mental vacation spot, that village in the mountain valley with witches and old gods and a retired evil wizard? It had been in my head for decades.

    • It took me fifteen years for my first (and thus far only) book. Mind you, I came up with the story in junior high, so that was a necessary time period, but I sincerely hope the sequel only takes a tenth of that time.

      • Mary

        In the first one, you had to master the structure as well as write the book.

        • More to the point, I had to learn to write at all.

          I have stories of mine saved from junior high merely for the point-and-laugh factor. I have nothing from before then, because earlier I was following nonexistent rules in my head and my “fiction” was little better than essays.

          (Note that I swore once that I would never write voluntarily. It was torment.)

    • That’s encouraging to hear. Although hopefully I can produce faster this time!

    • Mary

      The Magic of the Lost God” took me over a decade, and I was TRYING to write it.

      and then one day it was revealed to me that the nasty unkempt cantankerous solitary old wizard living among Egyptian tombs in ancient times was in fact a Victorian-age British woman, upper-class, soft-spoken, visiting Egypt with her family — but still nasty and still a wizard.

  4. Dorothy Grant

    I’m stuck at that “Wait, why are people expecting me to write another complete one? What? How’s that work?” So congratulation on getting the book done!

    • Second book block is a real thing! But you can do it.

    • Uncle Lar

      Do remember that the only thing worse than your readers demanding an immediate sequel is that they don’t.

    • Sarah’s blogged on that. But you have the academic knowledge of novel shape and form and, poor fool, you opened the door and let the ideas in (or out, or maybe through) and it’s really tough to close the mind to creativity and committing narativium once its gotten a taste.

      Rest in the glow of completion. Cedar and Dorothy both. Soon enough you’ll find yourself at the keyboard “just jotting down a little idea” and several hours later you’ll surface to the realization that you’ve started another novel.

  5. John in Philly

    I started reading in the late 1950s and it was an age when books magically showed up at the library. Later, as my awareness changed, I knew that books were written by human beings. But the authors were a breed apart, living in some magical land where galactic spanning organizations fought against evil, detectives always caught the bad, where magic and reality crossed, authors created worlds in which great people did great things, and even average people had extraordinary lives.

    The dry prose of book jacket blurbs didn’t really make the author seem like a living person. But when I began reading blogs, I found that authors had good days and bad days, they had families, they had day jobs, they had successes and failures, and they were real people.

    The blogs of authors have opened my eyes to how much writers are like me, and then made me see how wonderfully different they are.

    Authors, thank you all for writing and for blogging, and by doing so, making me a part of a bigger and a greater world.

  6. Like you, I’m a pantser. I write in scenes, which, of course, in some cases, is shorter than a chapter. I write chronologically too. It can get tedious at times but it stops me from losing my place in the story. I haven’t had any huge interruptions as of late but there are times when I wish I was a plotter so if I needed time off, I would know for sure it wouldn’t befuddle my WiP.