What I learned from a Sexy Old Book

Fire bad.

Tree pretty.

Writing hard.

I may have mentioned this before. I’ve been stuck on HEROES UNDER SIEGE again. And, to be honest, not so much on the book itself, but on writing, or me as a writer, or some such nonsense.

I have issues. We know this. I have a serious case of subsequent book syndrome and every time I take some steps in the right direction, I tend to run away and hide from the work again because I get really scared about finishing things. I’ve never been good about finishing things because I always relate being done with judgement time. If something’s never done, you can keep saying, sorry, not done yet, and then no one can really tell you how much it sucks.

It’s a perfectionism thing.

The other day I got Dragon Age 2 from Gamestop for $6. Kait about had a fit. I thought her head was going to explode. And I get it. I’ve been really absent, hiding, for the better part of a year. And when I’m hiding in a video game, I’m completely gone. So I put the game aside and tried to go back to work and still couldn’t settle.

This has been The Summer of the Sexy New Book. For the last few years, I’ve been so focused on the Talent Chronicles that I’ve been incapable of thinking of anything else. And then suddenly, this summer, my brain exploded and it’s been plot bunny central up in here. And every Andreweekend, poor Andrew shows up on GoogleTalk and I’ve got a new book or a new series to babble about.

And by this time, Kait and Andrew are about ready to tie me to a chair for some BICHOK action until SIEGE or something gets written, when I decide to take a side trip down memory lane and pull out the book I almost finished five years ago. I think it was the last thing I seriously worked on before I did that thing where I decided to quit writing altogether.

I didn’t expect to get very far. I expected to spend a few chapters cringing, and then to pat myself on the back for how much I’ve grown as a writer and be inspired to get back to work.

But I was kind of blown away by what I found.

WEST OF THE MOON (the working title I gave it because I came up with most of the plot while listening to a-ha’s East of the Sun, West of the Moon album), at 86k words, was nearly finished when I walked away from it. I remember the last plotting sessions, visualizing my way from where the characters were in act 4, all the way through the climax and how that was going to go down, all the way to the denouement and happily ever after scenes at the end of the book. I knew exactly where that story was going and I guess it scared the crap out of me.

Five years ago, I just didn’t understand the stuff about plotting and structure that I do now and I was really running just on the instinct developed from reading a few hundred books in the genre. I expected to find a formless mess that couldn’t be salvaged. I didn’t. I expected my voice to be so much different. And it was different, but not so much. It’s like this weird mix of the same-old same-old melodramatic romance writer tone I was trying to stop emulating with these moments where you can absolutely hear the same voice I have today. It was so cool!

And it had dirty bits! I used to write grown-up books. I think that, over the past two years of being steeped in YA, I’d forgotten that I used to write that subject matter. Oh yeah, I remember those parts and how they fit together. Ooh, did I really write that? And that? :blushes:

The point is that I kind of loved reading it. And I am soooo not objective about it. It needs objective eyes to help me rewrite and finish it because it has plenty of problems.

And if there are any Talent fans who actually read my blog, they’re all getting pissed off right now, thinking that I’m abandoning the Chronicles for Sexy Old Book.

I’m not.

Because, honestly, one of the first lessons this should be teaching me is not to abandon good things because they get hard or because I’m scared to finish them. Because realizing how close I came to abandoning Matt and Alex and never sharing them was kind of tragic. Not tragic for you. You’ve got plenty to read and you’ll be just fine. But sad for me because I get a hell of a lot out of sharing characters and stories with you. These guys were totally worth sharing, and I just threw them away.

But here’s my other epiphany of the day…

I used to have this thing about saving material. I did this with the Talent Chronicles, absolutely. I didn’t touch that idea for years because it was so important to me and I didn’t want to waste it until I was good enough to really do something with it. Do you ever do that? Do you ever hoard concepts, characters, witty lines, or moving scenes because you’re saving up all your best stuff until you’re really good at this and then you’re going to put it all together in one perfect storm of a book?

Reading through WEST OF THE MOON, it had moments. It had moments of self-deprecating snark that made me smile, lines that made me laugh out loud. It had moments of achy tenderness, and moments when the aches were of a different nature. It had “good stuff.”

There’s no way to excise that good stuff and move it somewhere else. I can’t transplant Matt and Alex to another story. I can’t pull out those witty lines and give them to someone else. Because they come out of these characters and this story.

But there’s good stuff in HUSH MONEY. There’s good stuff in CURFEW, and there’s already good stuff that I love in SIEGE. There will always be more good stuff. Like love, it’s not something that comes in a 2.5 oz package and has to be used sparingly or you’ll run out. It’s already there, and it just comes out when you’re open to it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m god of my fictional world. I make the shit happen, and I make the hard, conscious choices that make it a story instead of the amorphous emo-fest my subconscious would have you read. But, you know, maybe I need to have a little more faith in her [my subconscious]. Like Alex, maybe what’s held me back in this relationship is fear and refusal to trust that I can have this next book and have it be just as good, and hey, maybe even better than the last one.

A few weeks ago, Kait pointed out that I made this big lifestyle change with regard to food. I cleaned up my act a lot. I controlled portion sizes, I stopped emotional eating–I really made all these changes to the way I even think about food. And here I am, nearly forty pounds lighter for it, at a healthy weight I hadn’t seen for 20 years, and I’m not having a problem maintaining it. She said something like, if you can make those changes in the way you think in one area of your life, you can change your thinking about writing.

That’s…kind of empowering. And it’s been rolling around in my head since she said it, along with the notion yeah, as soon as I figure out WHAT to change, and HOW to do it, I’ll get right on that.

So here’s a thought: What if I stop being the baggage-laden, can’t get over herself heroine everyone wants to throttle and have a little faith? What if I start believing that the book, and all the good stuff I want for it, is already in there? In me. And all I have to do is sit, Butt In Chair Hands On Keyboard, and be open to it.

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4 Comments

Filed under wotm, writing

4 responses to “What I learned from a Sexy Old Book

  1. Stacey Wallace Benefiel

    You’re not alone. I have the same problem or I would just finish the book that I actually fricking plotted for once. I’ve got three WIP’s going, all a quarter finished and I just. can’t. finish. one. of. them.
    Yet, I’ve also been thinking that, hey, I managed to write books that have good parts in them, stuff that other people think is good too, and that I should trust that I can do it again…and just do it.

    I’m pickin’ up what you’re puttin’ down, lady!

    And let me read WEST OF THE MOON, will ya? I’m intrigued. 🙂

  2. This is fantastic advice for everyone. I’ve had lots of plot bunnies hit me while I plot my main idea. Sometimes, I think up something and go, “I’ll save it for the OTHER idea because that will make it even more awesome than it already is.” This post perfectly puts into words why that’s a bad idea.
    I plan on adopting a first come, first serve policy because that’s probably where the idea fits the best anyway.

    Great post. Do it again next week. I shall begin the nagging process today.

  3. I like what I’m hearing. Maybe you’re starting to have a little more faith in yourself…you know, like we have faith in you. The last time we were together, you talked so much about so many good ideas, and the whole time I was just thinking “Why don’t you write those?”. But I know that you and I are wired differently in that respect. So I don’t push you. That’s what you have Kait for. LOL. The thing is, you are so good at what you DO write, that all your ideas are bound to come out in total awesomeness when you let them spill out. I’m just glad that maybe, just MAYBE, you’re starting to see that. 🙂

    You are totally making me want to read West of the Moon. Totally.

  4. Love it. So much better than my thought process of everyone’s-already-publishing-why-am-I-so-slow circular thoughts. Go Susan!!

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