Tag Archives: second book syndrome

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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My Second Book Syndrome: Change of Process

So I was trying to think of something to write about today that has to do with the writing life. I should have a ton of stuff. I feel like I learned a ton of stuff as I worked my way through Heroes ‘Til Curfew. There were a lot of times I said to someone, one thing I learned while writing this book is that… And right now I’m having trouble remembering what any of those things actually were.

Okay, here’s one: Be willing to change your “process.”

Once upon a time, I met a fellow amateur writer online and we exchanged work. I immediately saw potential in what I was reading, but I could also see reasons why it wasn’t ready yet. Some feedback I gave her was that there were scenes that didn’t seem to advance the plot. (I don’t think that’s how I put it because I didn’t always know the right terms to explain what I meant back then–still don’t.) Or there were scenes with a bunch of details that didn’t seem to matter. There was an “and then…and then…and then…” quality to these portions of the story that slowed it down and made me wonder why the author was spending my time this way.

My new writer friend took this very well, which, to me, was another flashing neon sign of great writer potential. And after a bit of back and forth she explained to me that this was just “her process.” This sticking with the character, recording her every action as she went along, this was how this writer found her way through the story. (Because, yes, she was a pantster.)

As we moved along, this writer was ever willing to cut things that didn’t seem relevant, but she was spending a lot of time writing things that got cut while complaining that she needed more time to write. Eventually, I started a campaign against her process, in the name of efficiency.

Today you know Kait Nolan as a kick-ass writer of tight, fast-paced, action-packed fiction, as well as a staunch supporter of plotting and, yes, even outlining! But this is not actually a post to tell you how she owes all her success to me (joke!); it’s about how part of being professional is about seeing what’s holding you back and being will to change it.

I wrote the draft of Hush Money in 30 days. Of course I did a lot of prep work. I had a strong structure in place and an outline that gave me most of the basics while allowing me to discover the details in the writing. I was writing a series that had been on my mind for years, characters who had been living in my head for a while. I had months and months of not writing bottled up, words just waiting to spew out, and two close indie friends with actual sales and readers making me excited, envious, and chomping at the bit to get something out there.

No wonder it came out so fast.

In contrast, I think that once the outline was really in place, it must have taken at least nine months to write the draft of Heroes ‘Til Curfew. People, my daughter was seven weeks early. I don’t even put in nine months baking a baby let alone a book! What the hell??

The hell was my damned process. This idea I have that it should always be easy. If it’s not easy, if it’s not freakin’ inspired, it’s just not ready to come out of my head and it’s just not going to be good. Of course I didn’t say these things to myself. I didn’t realize that this was in my head. If I had, hopefully I would have bitch-slapped myself a long time ago. But in retrospect, I’m sure this was part of the problem.

But things were so different setting out to write this book. I now had something established. I had places I wanted to go, and this book had to fit where I’d been as well as where I wanted to take the series. I had readers. Readers who liked the voice, the characters…readers with expectations. Expectations absolutely kicked my ass on this thing. The pressure I put on myself was ridiculous, and the fear of living up to something I built up in my head was a big issue.

Anyway, the point of THIS post was that I was not in the same place for this manuscript as I was with the last one. Of course it wasn’t going to come out the same way. But if it wasn’t just going to come out, then what was I going to do?

I was going to have to change my process. I was going to have to accept that there might be serious rewriting involved. I was going to have to push through and put something on the page, even if there didn’t seem to be any words on my fingertips that day. If there was just a big blank spot in my head where the scene was supposed to be, I was going to have to make it be there–because I couldn’t keep sitting around and waiting for it to appear by magic like it has in the past.

Imagine that.

And the end of the story is that it was still good. I dragged my way through that book knowing that when I got through I’d have this horrific pile of uninspired schlock and have to start all over again.

But I didn’t. Did I make changes? Yeah, I did. I’m still pretty new at this actually finishing work, getting to and getting through the editing phase. This was probably the first manuscript that I made radical changes in, went back and added in whole scenes, or cut most of a scene and rewrote it in a different context.

And when I finally read it, I loved it. In the final product, I’m not sure if you can tell the difference between what parts were inspiration and what were perspiration. Would I say I’ve got it down now? That I’m good at this business of just pushing through and doing the work, inspiration or no? No. No I wouldn’t.

But at the same time, I’ve seen this problem for what it is. In psychology there’s this thing called “reality testing.” When you have an irrational fear of something, like pushing through a story when you’re not inspired, you have to go out and do it anyway. This is in order to prove to yourself that whatever horror you think will befall–like coming out with a nicely formatted file of pure crap–won’t actually happen. So I’ve been through the reality testing phase of treating the syndrome on this manuscript. Now I just have to continue to practice the new behaviors, the new thoughts, the new process.

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