Fumbling Along in the Dark

Winter has finally settled over this sleepy mining town after a rough start of rain and glare ice. All gone now, with a proper snow. We’ve a good couple of inches laying like thick icing over everything and the mall parking lots have their Mount Snows, strategically placed in the corners of their lots, towering over shoppers and SUVs alike (by quite a margin). After bemoaning the general lack of decent winters we’ve had, with Christmases that came and went entirely green, it looks like we’re settling in nicely to something appropriately seasonal even if not as cold as they once were back in the (good?) old days.

So I’m in my office under bright winter sunlight with a cup of Assam tea to my right and a tabby cat that looks like a loaf of rising ciabatta to my left, noodling on the BLOOD OF WOLVES rewrite, which has hit 43,ooo words. I gotta say, it was touch and go there for a bit, but the novel and I are chugging along more amiably as of late, now that November is safely behind us. It’s hard to know how much of the downswing in productivity was related to being ill as long as I was or if it’s the regular 20-30K slump a novel tends to have.

I used to hit these walls and believe, 100%, that the novel was doomed — like, a deep voice that would just sit on my shoulder and intone DOOMED over and over again until I believed it. I’d abandon the project, or worse, try to restart it by scrapping everything. Never worked. I’d hit the wall, twice as desolate and sure I’d never make it. Getting better at ignoring that sometimes-not-so-little voice is a skill, let me tell you, and a hard-earned one at that.

I think that’s part of the problem with writing advice — you need to hear, and do, different things at different stages of your development. There will come a point in your career (gods willing) where you will know that those 30,000 words are crap and must be tossed. And you’ll be safe doing it, because you know you can get to the end of one of these beasties because you have before. But if you’ve never finished a novel, scrapping it all to start again doesn’t get you any closer. Same with editing while writing. Clearly, this works for some writers, but I think too many new writers try to both write and edit, and this helps that monster on the shoulder, feeds it like Miracle Grow, and the temptation to scrap it all whispers louder and louder.

Speaking of that little voice, I wonder, too, whether deciding to do the rewrite from scratch instead of working on the draft I had isn’t also the work of a frustrated Mr. Doom. The story itself is radically different even if the characters are the same. I worry that that’s a function of time, too. Take a story idea, any idea, and write it. Go back and write again a year from now. And again a year after that. The story will change with each attempt by virtue of being more skilled, but the story changes, too, because you change and the things that spark in your mind, the things that resonate for you, will have changed, too.

So much of this writing life is learning by doing, feeling along with your fingers in a mostly dark room and lighting candles as you go. Sure, there’s the odd candle lit ahead, and you can crawl toward it, but its light will never be as steady as the candle you light yourself.

I suppose I won’t know if this rewrite of BLOOD is the right thing to do until I’m done. Speaking of which, back to it.

PS: Updates to The Bookshelf! It will soon be time to retire that Page into a Post and get the new Page for 2013 up. Also, I wax poetic about the Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant over here on GoodReads. Read these books! READ THEM.

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