Renovating rooms, knocking down walls

I’m not going gung-ho with writing right now. I know it’s a bit of a fruitless endeavor, what with family and holidays and everything. As my lovely friend Jennifer said to me yesterday during coffee, “Just enjoy doing nothing for a while.”

Yeah, I’m not good with doing nothing. Especially writing-wise. But hey, I’m pacing myself.

Except characters just have minds of their own now, don’t they? The last three days I’ve been assaulted with bits and pieces of dialogue, scenes, sentences, and stories from The Ward of the Rose (taking a wee break from the followup to Queen of None, but still going to be writing more Arthuriana posts). For those of you keeping count, that’s the sequel to The Aldersgate that I’d written about seven chapters in earlier this year and then decided to let cool for a while.

Sometimes letting a draft cool can be a very positive experience. With Queen of None, for example, the five or so months I let it stew led to a much clearer revisit and, thankfully, the realization that it was a far better story than I’d initially thought. This led to the best editing session I’ve ever had, and I’m still excited about the book as a whole.

However, The Ward of the Rose is difficult. It did not benefit from the months and months of stasis. Feeling plucky today I opened up Scrivener to take a look at what was there. Three of the seven chapters I’d grade at B+, the other four I consigned immediately to my sub-zero drafts folder (not completely destroying, but keeping around for random bits of information if I need them). Then, facing the other three chapters I dug even deeper. Is it my best? No. Is it worth the editing? Because, sure, with enough time you can edit anything into submission.

But no. No, no, no. Too much needed to be reworked. There wasn’t enough tension, there wasn’t enough movement. The POV was too distant in one chapter, and in the other two there was far too much dialogue. Not to mention another hundred spoilery problems throughout.

It really sucks to dump that much writing. Hours and hours of work. Part of me was really ready to get sulky about it. But already what I wrote after, a scant 3,000 words, is better than what I dumped. It’s first-draft better, but it’s far closer to the feeling of the first book and much more in line for the vision I have.

Rule #1: Don’t be precious about your work. You can’t afford it. The more precious you are, the more blind you get to your own writing issues, and the harder it will ever be to improve. I learned this the hard way in my creative writing courses in undergrad, which is to say I didn’t learn it until after. I really thought most of what I wrote was perfectly fine the way it was and screw you if you thought different.

It can always be better.

As I Tweeted earlier: Sometimes you have to knock down walls to renovate the room.

But the fun part? After you’re done, you can invite everyone back in again.

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  1. I can understand you completely. I am contemplating whether or not I should leave my manuscript stew for a while, because while the words come and I move the story forward, I am not feeling it. It’s like an off tune piano and I can’t seem to get it tuned right. I am hoping to wrap it up as draft as it is and then during edits pin down the voice of the character.

    Stay strong and PS: I love the new layout better. I have been reading you for a long time from Google Reader, so I didn’t catch the change.

    1. @Harry Thanks for the well-wishes. It’s not half so bad, really, to start over again sometimes. In some ways I feel extremely liberated from that sub-zero draft, as it was really feeling like quite a burden. If a draft feels like that it’s probably a good sign it’s time to let it alone for a while, or start again. Starting again is usually my approach. While not the most time-effective, I think it definitely works out best for me in the end.

      1. I am seriously contemplating that myself and I think it sounds better and better for me if I try and do the same with this one, though I would just want it to be done and not have to worry that I am one of those leaving projects hanging. It’s my sort of thing I did and still do, barely finish anything. The tendency is changing, but then again the procrastination gene just tempts me.

  2. I love your rule #1. I’m going to have to remember that when I start asking for critiques (eek).

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