Writing

Trying not to think about the finish line.

Whew. 5,597 new words written this weekend!

To do all that I ended up skipping the Brooklyn Book Festival (there’s always next year, right?) and neglecting all the errands on my to-do list, but I did at least make it out to a housewarming party last night.

It was an unintentional marathon. For the last few days I’ve been rewriting WRBTD in a completely new format. It was originally 118,000 words all from the perspective of the main character. I had already done a few different drafts with the current version of the plot and was fairly happy with how it was shaping up…but there was something about it that wasn’t quite what I wanted. I spent so much time thinking on it but just couldn’t pin down what the problem was.

And then I got it into my head that it could be really great if I shifted perspectives, diving in and out of the minds of different characters. It wasn’t a solution to the problem…just something that sounded challenging and fun.

The thought was as much inspiring as it was terrifying. Rewrite the majority of 118,000 words from scratch? When I already had a working plot and structure? I fought with myself about it for days. It could add so much to the story. But it would destroy several elements of surprise. I’d get the chance to round out certain characters a bit more. But I’d have to overhaul the way a lot of things happened or were revealed.

I briefly talked through the change with Bri — the only person who has read a bit of and heard in detail about this project — just to see what it felt like to say it out loud. The moment I told her what I was thinking, I had the feeling of being absolutely right.

But also I felt panicked. So I dwelled on it for a little longer.

When I sat down to begin the rewrite, it was not the result of an Aha, I have made my decision! moment, but actually that I had involuntarily started drafting new chapters in my head and I felt like I was going to explode if I didn’t get them typed out. I realized that while the fear was keeping me from consciously committing to the change, the rest of my brain was all in.

Just one thousand words into a new character’s perspective, I knew it was exactly what the novel needed. So now I’ve got my my work cut out for me. I actually can’t remember the last time I had this much fun with a rewrite — which seems to be the best of signs.

It occurred to me last night, as I read through yesterday’s new material, that every time I’ve had that panicked feeling about a writing decision, it’s been the correct decision. I try not to coddle myself — no matter how great the writing is, if a paragraph or a page or a chapter isn’t working, I cut it. If I can see clearly that the novel needs a big structural change, I might sigh a couple times, and then I get over it and force myself to work.

But when it begins as just an instinct and not a clear fix, and when it’s something requiring a minimum of several more months of work…it can be hard. I’m learning that that panicked feeling is almost never fear that I’ll ruin the novel. After all, I can always revert back to an older draft and start again. It’s always a fear that I’ll never be done, that maybe I’m just trapping myself in an endless cycle of editing.

And I guess this is where patience comes in again — that quality which we all know I lack the most. That’s really all this anxiety stems from, I think. Being bad at waiting through the process.

It’s weekends like this one, when I’m able to pound out over 5,000 exhilarating words, that I’m certain again there’s a finish line up ahead somewhere. I’ve got to stop squinting off into the distance, keep my eyes on the road immediately ahead, and know that at some point I will get to the end.

4 thoughts on “Trying not to think about the finish line.

  1. Great post! I love reading about people getting writing done, and it seems you are proud of yourself as well. Stephen King has said in the past that it’s possible to get stuck in an endless cycle of editing. However, at some point we need to divorce from our work and start on something else. I just wanted to give you a bit of encouragement that you are not the only one struggling with this issue. Have a wonderful day and happy writing!

    Like

  2. “Rewrite the majority of 118,000 words from scratch?” – This is like in the top four of my worst nightmares. I’m so glad you decided to rewrite, because somehow that makes it seem like it’s a realistic thing to do.

    I’m working on a shifting perspective novel right now, so I really REALLY hope I don’t have the reverse of your epiphany.

    Like

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