Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Writing Love and Saying Goodbye

Sometimes you come across a question like this out in the internet: Why do you write?

It's not a trick question and there are several possible answers. I think the question is meant to be more introspective than anything, allowing a writer to take stock of their priorities and to realize what motivates them.

Like thousands of other people, I fell in love with storytelling and writing as a child. There's nothing special or even remarkable about that. Children are taught and influenced heavily by stories. Growing up, I had vague notions of attempting to publish someday. It wasn't a driving force for me though. I loved the storytelling process. I have suffered from insomnia since a young age and rather than make a big deal out of it, I found a way to take care of the issue on my own. I make up stories at night to silence all the other voices in my head and allow me to relax and fall asleep. I've always loved to read. I love to watch movies. I love talking with other people and hearing the stories of their lives. I love the way stories affect my emotions, my thought processes, and especially when I can find the hidden subtext or theme within them. Yes, I even like morality plays and stories with obvious or hidden morals to them.

So I didn't put a lot of pressure on myself as I wrote during my childhood and teen years. I explored, experimented, and had a lot of fun. I kept an index card file of my ideas, had official notebooks where I listed my titles, and took great pleasure in putting a check mark beside each title I'd completed a draft for. My writing was prolific. I'd get up earlier than anyone else in my family to enjoy the quiet in order to write. I think I spent more of my free time writing than in pursuing anything else. I loved the writing process.

Zooming ahead to today, I'm getting ready to file away the manuscript I've labored over for the past five years. I'd written the first draft back when I was seventeen, completed a second draft months later and even started a third before I needed a break and went on to work on other stories. The serious contemplation of publication hit me five years ago. I pulled out my title list and chose the story I thought would work best to break into the publishing process with. I started my research into the industry while working on the latest few drafts of the story. Quickly I realized that my two book idea wouldn't work. There was such a creature as word count limit. I'd have to chop my two books into four. That isn't easy. Then I discovered my first book would have to work as a standalone if I wanted the chance to publish the other books that would finish the story. Okay, I would work hard to do that.

I studied, I read up on craft and guidelines, I wrote and rewrote, outlined, and slaved over the first half of the original book to make it a separate and standalone entity. It grew into a monster. It needed necessary filler in places to make a standalone plot work but the characters which were allowed to be enlarged and the subplots that came into being threatened the main line of the story. I stubbornly held on and kept at it. What was the point of all this time and effort if this wasn't to be my first published book?

This book, it turns out, was my learning book. I can smile with relief now as I prepare to file it away. The beast grew too frustrating towards the end and many days I didn't even want to look at it. All the time and effort put into it certainly wasn't wasted. I've learned a lot, especially about my weak points. I also learned that I'd grown to despise the writing process rather than love it, and no one should continue with a book if it makes them hate writing.

Maybe someday down the road I'll unearth this story again along with the original, sit down, strip away the two characters who took it over (even though they are favorites with my beta readers) and take the time to approach the story from its founding viewpoints. I'll dismantle huge chunks of plot and subplot without cringing. Or, I may just read through the story and feel the echo of my relief when I decided I was done with it.

I'm going to take a week or two break from writing. My internal editor needs time to power down. I've got a manuscript to critique for someone else, two books to read before they're due back at the library, and I want to take the time to read through some of my other completed story drafts. I have nineteen to choose from. Or I might rekindle my interest in one of the half completed stories. Who knows? I need to get my love for writing back. Focusing too much on publication and revision killed the experience for me and it showed.

My questions for you this week: have you ever filed away or trunked a novel? How hard was it for you realize it wasn't going to be the one? Do you use a filing system for ideas or stories?

1 comment:

  1. I did that with the first novel I ever wrote. I buried it almost three years ago, but hey I love zombies so it got resurrected into that WIP I shared with you last summer. But since I'm neurotic, I just had to change it again. It's now the very one I'm working on right now.

    Sometimes, breaks are necessary. Sometimes it's good to pursue other ideas. It's a bit like dating--get some space, find out what you really want to do, and if it's meant to be, the two of you will get reunited eventually.

    Lame metaphor, I know. LOL.