Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Getting To Know Your Novel: A Love/Hate Story

There are really no words to describe the awesome feeling of starting a new book. That blinking cursor on a blank page that transforms into a first sentence - a portal into a new world. New characters with new mannerisms and quirks and story twists and turns that have yet to be revealed despite what you may or may not have carefully outlined. But in the beginning stages, you're still not committed. You can write one, ten, even twenty pages and then just let it go because there is not yet a tether that binds you to this story. You have yet to truly crawl inside these characters in a way that makes you unable to stop thinking about them, and the story has yet to become such a piece of you that you find yourself thinking about it as you shower, as you drive, and in every idle second in between your "real" life. It's like you're dating.

You start to feel like this story may actually become something as it starts to move up in page count, naturally, propelling into the sixties and seventies, and when you finally hit page 100, you may even have a victory dance and fist pump that hopefully no one saw. By this point, you've already foregone basic nutrition for snacks, food pyramid be damned, because you are starting to feel the groove of this thing and what it might become. At this point, you truly feel like you can call it a work-in-progress, because you are indeed progressing. The relationship to your story is becoming more serious and intense, far more than a courtship, and you're definitely feeling like you can commit to this, but you can still turn back. You may go back at this point and read all you've written and one of two things will usually happen here. Either you will pat yourself on the back and think this is an absolute effing work of genius and press on, buoyed by little more than your own over-confidence that you've written the next New York Times Bestseller, or you will start to crumble inward, thinking that you have spent the last 100 pages (translate into weeks/months/years of your life) deluding yourself that this was any good and that you're a real writer. Many relationships with one's stories end and fizzle in a blaze of glory right here.

But . . . for those that brave forward, who know in their heart that the first draft is allowed to be utterly craptastic and they just need to get the story out, they plunge forward toward the murky middle. This is, without a doubt, the toughest part of the novel for most writers. It's where all the meat of your story truly lies, and it's also the easiest place to get bogged down with details, have too little action and find your characters treading water and ultimately lose your reader. Don't give up hope!! Because if you can make it through the murky middle, your relationship will have proven the test of time, and you will have reached a tipping point. Because after you've reached the middle, it's all downhill sailing to the end. That doesn't mean there doesn't need to be action, characterization, plot and the tying together of threads, but it means you are less likely to give up on your story because that light at the end of the tunnel, though maybe only a small yellow dot at this point, is first starting to become visible.

For me, moving my way past what I project to be the midpoint of my novel makes me breathe an audible sigh of relief, because I start to feel like I might actually be able to do this. Honestly, it's not until then that I feel absolutely confident and committed that this story is going to find its way to completion because up until then, it's simply too easy for that self doubt to settle in the cracks.

And the end. The glorious, bittersweet end. The part where you know what you have left to say, and you get to race downhill and let it all come together. By that point, this book has become so much a part of your soul that you get the necessary surge of adrenaline you need to do whatever needs to be done, hours in the day be damned. You feel like a marathon runner , summoning all your reserves to make it across the finish line. And when you do, it is pure exhilaration.

You did this. There were days when you doubted you could, where the words wouldn't come, where you wondered if this is truly what you were supposed to be doing. But at the end of the day, you can't have that dream come true unless you hold true to the dream and work every day to make it your reality. No one else can write the story that's inside of you, so don't give up. Whether you write 50 words or 5,000 words on any given day, just write. Sometimes a first date an turn into a great love, and you'd never know if you didn't keep dating. So it is with your writing. See it through, and give yourself the permission to write pure and utter crap with the simple promise that you'll see it through and revise it later. I, personally, find it much easier to work from and be inspired by the words I've already written on the page than that blank, blinking cursor. And once in a while, I'm rewarded with reading something I've written that's really great and all my own and remember that I do this because it fills my soul.


Laurie L Young said...

This is articulated so well and so speaks to what I am going through right now. Thank you for reading my mind. I plan to bookmark this post and read it every time I feel like throwing in the towel on my current WIP, (which hasn't happened yet, but some days come very close . . . )

Robin Reul said...

Awwww...thanks Laurie!! If your WIP is the book I know about don't you are throw in the towel, my friend. It's a GREAT story, one that kids will absolutely love and laugh out loud when they read. It may take a while to get it where you want it to be, but don't give up on it!!

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