Writing and Risk Taking

riskI’ve just completed the first draft of my third novel. You’d think it would be cause for celebration, wouldn’t you? After all, I’ve been working on the manuscript for just over a year. Actually, about fourteen months. Fourteen months, one week and three days, precisely. That’s fourteen months, one week and three days with tangential voices in my head. And they didn’t always wait patiently for me to sit at my computer and arouse them. Rather, these voices woke me up at night, nagged me while I was swimming laps, bugged me while I was trying to watch television, or listen to someone who was talking to me. They interrupted my teaching, distracted me from my research, entertained me while I waited for the bus. In short – they were always there. And now they’re gone.

Anyone but another writer may think it strange. But I know these voices really well. They belong to individual characters with their own personalities. They have good points and not so good points. They have their personal likes and dislikes, talents and weaknesses. Like the rest of us, they are fabulous and they are flawed. But they are mine. I created them, nurtured them, grew them to the point where they surpassed my creative development and began to dictate and narrate the plot and subplots themselves. They let me know who was capable of what, what was or was not consistent with their psyche. They told me where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do and with who.

Sometimes we battled it out on the page. I would write what I wanted to happened, they would refuse to comply, and that particular chapter or scene would sound clunky, or wouldn’t flow properly, or had some often unidentifiable factor subverting the plot. Other times, if I allowed them free reign, their interpretation of my narrative view resulted in a flow of words as smooth and providential as red wine and dark chocolate on a cool Autumn evening in front of a crackling log fire… and all was right in my literary world!

And now it’s over.

The next step, of course, is to submit it for feedback. But there is something holding me back. This manuscript is deeply personal. Not in a ‘my characters reflect me as a person’ type of way, nor in a ‘there are biographical plot lines contained herein’ sort of way. Neither is true (well, no more true than any author creating any work of fiction).

risk taking

Perhaps it’s because this novel, more-so than the first two, has so much more riding on its viability. It is, after all, an experimental work (and I’ll say no more about that this time). Or perhaps it is because in submitting their work, writers, as with any creative artists, open themselves up for public scrutiny and critique with no possibility of rebuttal. In any other profession, an employee has only to seek approval from the person above them in their supervisory line, and feedback is provided one-to-one. If the feedback is unfair or unwarranted, there are other avenues the employee may pursue. But creative artists have no such alternatives. It’s a very public climb, or fall.

In the development stages of a book’s production, an author has to send their work out with the express intention of seeking critique. First drafts always look very different to finish works. Redrafting, refining, and rewriting are necessary processes in the development of a book. Any book. A writer does not publish a book that has not undergone a rigorous editorial process. And sometimes this process can take many months, even years. We all know this.

It’s what needs to happen to my manuscript now. But for some reason this time, the risk feels too great. It’s a lot scarier than it was for my first two books. Perhaps it’s because the novel is for a different age group (16+ rather than 12-16), or perhaps because it was with a different hierarchy (interactive), maybe it’s because it will be a new editor who has a much greater power to influence me…

I’m not sure what it is, or why this time is so different. But I do know I can’t back down or back away. I have to submit. I have to know. It’s one of the most nerve-wracking, scariest, and simultaneously exciting moments as an author to date.

Okay… here goes….

A Writer’s Despair

angeldespairI can’t think straight. My mind is in turmoil. I don’t know what to do. Who to talk to. How to move forward. Nothing is working. Feel like I’m suffocating under the weight that’s bearing down on me. It’s relentless. Can’t shift it. Can’t see through it. Can’t call for help cause I can’t trust anyone. I think it might be... all over.

Luckily, these sentiments do not belong to me. Well, not exactly. They’re inside my head, and driving me crazy. But they belong to someone else.

I’m in writing mode. At least, I’m supposed to be. But the main character in the novel I’m currently writing is doing my head in. He is stuck. And I have a deadline of the end of February––11 days––to get this manuscript finished.

My writing process is complex. Sometimes the word flow is prolific. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. My characters are usually good at letting me know where they need to go. And often this is different to where the original plot suggested they should go. And mostly, that’s okay. I’m happy to follow their direction because they don’t often steer me wrong.

But this character is confused. Very confused. He is confronting some very challenging issues and he’s hurting. He is fighting for his survival, and his sanity. I just wish he’d figure it out quicker. Because really, he needs to get out of my head now.

To anyone other than another writer, it may sound like I am losing the plot. But the plot has already been subverted by this character. A few times now. I’m ready to tear this manuscript to shreds. Or plot my protagonists death. A long and painful one. Or maybe I should begin a whole new novel. A nice adventure story about unicorns or something.

I usually have a bit more patience with my characters, and once they’ve established their voice strongly enough, I allow them to direct the narrative arc themselves. But, I’ve been working on this manuscript for a year now; I’m almost at the end. Though it still fits into the YA genre, it’s a bit darker than my previous two manuscripts. My protagonist, Ben, has decided to have a complete meltdown. And a character in tantrum mode is enough to drive any writer mad.

Writing the last few chapters of a novel is hard at the best of times. Really hard. You have to do justice to your characters while maintaining the integrity of the narrative arc, all the while tying up any loose ends around your minor plot points, and resolving unanswered questions––satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily.  You have to be satisfied that the end of the book is worthy of the all the work you’ve put into it. That your characters have been challenged and grown through it and changed in some way. And that they’re ready to say goodbye.

Ben is not ready to say goodbye. That’s the problem. He is holding too tight to something I’m yet to identify. A wall he can’t let down, a barrier that’s still invisible to me. Once he lets me in just a little further, I’ll be able to finish. But the more I push, the further he retreats. He is fighting me all the way. And I am running out of time.

Only another writer would get it. The rest of the world may be concerned for my sanity.