Oh so busy revising and writing and driving

Well, the Handy Small Child has started preschool, and I’ve started working through the Matchbox Girls edit notes in earnest. The lazy days of summer, when all I had to do was write a Nightlights scene a day and do chores, have drifted away like autumn leaves.

Of course, it’s the hottest weather we’ve had all summer right now. I mean, my tomatoes  don’t care, they’re still stubbornly staying green, because they’re conspiring against me. But still, hot weather.

Anyhow, this weekly post is supposed to be about Matchbox Girls. It’s my novel! It’s coming out in February! I’m going through it closely for the first time in at least six months. It hasn’t faded as much as I thought it might, but I did spend three years weeping tears of blood over it. Maybe it takes more than six months for those to fade.

Yes, okay, hyperbole. I don’t think I even cried salt tears over it. I did, however, reach the 3/4th point in the original draft, then decide it was All Crap and wrote it all over again from scratch. And it took a long time. Three+ years from start to finish, as I said (and for comparison, I’ve written 111,000 words since starting Nightlights in April).

A few scenes from the initial draft made it into the second draft mostly unmodified, but there were huge, huge changes, too. Characters cut, characters added, sub-plots expanded, sub-plots removed. Sometimes I run into brainstorming from before I even started the initial draft and it’s barely recognizable.

One thing I’ve noticed I do in the process of refining a story idea is that I strip information from the protagonist. In early iterations of an idea, the protagonist is often well-informed, with clear instructions and knowledgeable mentors. This makes maintaining tension harder, which affects pacing. So I throw out most of the information and make acquiring it part of the plot. What I do is probably a bit of a cheat, and I’m sure many excellent authors are able to provide a well-paced story without throwing characters in over their heads.

But it seems to be an effective cheat.

Okay, going through editorial comments and changes probably adds a lot of tension to the reading process for me. But while every scene is still laser-engraved in my memory, I still picked up this sense of growing anxiety and dread from the story, an awful sense of ‘Oh God, what’s going to happen next?’ Ridiculous, because I know. I wrote it. Ridiculous and weird. A couple of beta readers mentioned that they’d read most of the story in one sitting, which I dismissed at the time as ‘they were trying to get through it fast’. (Sorry, beta readers! Please forgive me!) Now, I’m wondering if I maybe did something right.

Posts like this are hard for me. The idea that saying something good about myself or my work will backfire on me is deeply, deeply ingrained. But I also need to do lots of self-promotion to succeed in this new publishing world. Or at least– I need to do some self-promotion. I still firmly believe that quality should rise to the top, but I’ve grudgingly come to admit that it can’t happen if it’s hidden in a closet. It’s easier for introverted me to work on quality improvement over selling myself, but I’ve got to work on both.

So, Matchbox Girls. Every sixty pages or so, it changes gears, always going faster. I think people will like it. And you’ll probably be hearing more from me about it.

Now or Later

I’m not as good of a writer as I’d like to be.

I’m really, really not. There’s all these stories I’d like to tell. There’s techniques I’d like to incorporate. And I can’t do it. Sometimes I don’t even know where to start.

It feels a little like trying to sing well. I know how I want my voice to sound, and the notes I’d like to reach but I just don’t have the control to do it.

This is not, I’m convinced, a matter of ‘gift’ or ‘talent’. I just haven’t trained the skills. I haven’t practiced enough.

Sometimes the knowledge that I haven’t practiced enough haunts me– usually when a scene I’m writing is falling short of my goals. Then I want to give up, tuck the story away and do something else: read a book on technique, or start a new project that won’t be so difficult, or take a nap and hope I wake up feeling better.

But books on technique don’t make up for practice and repetition, and one thing I know I need to practice is finishing works, and I can take a nap later. I have to sacrifice some of my ideas on the altar of self-improvement. If I don’t write, I’m not going to get better. And if I don’t get better I won’t ever be able to tell those other stories I want to tell, the ones that dance in my head out of reach because I haven’t climbed high enough yet.

If I want to write all the stories I dream of writing, I have to write. Now or later. Better to suck it up now, yes?

As somebody wise told me about the handy small child’s first attempt at making a peanut butter sandwich: good jobs often follow terrible ones.

PS: I don’t think NIGHTLIGHTS is terrible. But it could be. It’s probably not the astonishing work of unexpected brilliance I’d like it to be, either. You’ll have to let me know in July.