Not Quite One Third Plot-wise

I lied.

First of all, I haven’t been sticking to my writing schedule. Or at least I’m not sticking to it EXACTLY. See, I had a lot going on last week…in fact, today is my first full day of work at my office since the end of May. I ended up taking last Friday off and had HOURS that I could’ve written something.

Instead, I took a nap. Unintentionally.

See, I thought I was at “that point” in the book where I was ready to bring all the plot points together and start snowballing the whole thing. Last Friday was supposed to be the day that I began that chapter. The only problem was, I had no idea what I was going to write. It turns out that the book was nowhere near where I thought it was. I have this thing in my head, I guess you could call it a defense mechanism of sorts, where I play out a book from beginning to end. Then, when it comes time to actually write it, I don’t want to. I want to move on. I feel like I’ve already done it.

So, the second way I lied is by saying the book is a third of the way done. It’s not even close. I sat down on the couch last Friday and went over all the characters in my book (in between games of solitaire on my Kindle and actual napping), figuring out where they are now and what their destinations are by the end of the book. I realized I have some more development to do before the plotlines coalesce.

So I spent an hour outlining almost the entire book in a two-page summary.

Then, through a comical series of printer ink mishaps, eBay issues, forgetfulness, and general frustration, I ended up skipping library time and hating myself all weekend.

The good news is that I wrote yesterday, nearly 5 pages hand-written, and I’m following my new outline to the letter. I’m now writing chapter 9 and it looks like everything will come together in chapter 13…so even though I’m a third of the way through in page count (approximately), it looks like the climax of the book may actually happen at the halfway point. Seems appropriate.

And the book FEELS better now than it did before. All the foreshadowing leads somewhere. All the characters have a purpose.

It just sucks that I’m so impatient…I’ve already got the opening line to a new book in the back of my head…

 

Advertisements

One Third into Book #3

Book #3 is officially over 100 pages now. Finished chapter 8 yesterday. Word count is just under 23,500. That puts me one-third of the way to the finish line. More or less.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m basing my book’s progress strictly on word count or page count, because that would be ludicrous and arbitrary. I’m only ludicrous and arbitrary in my normal day-to-day dealings (such as parenting, or driving, or mowing the lawn). Writing is much more serious to me.

No, I know I’m a third of the way through because chapter 8 was the last “set-up” chapter. I’ve established the setting and my main characters. I’ve created an introductory conflict and some inner turmoil. I’ve dropped in some background info that puts some other characters’ motives into question. The next chapter begins phase two where everything ramps up.

I’ve been playing with a new structure (new to me, at least) on this project. See, I basically have two protagonists that, so far, have been following parallel paths with their own problems. My narrative voice has alternated between the guy on odd chapters and the girl on even chapters. The narration is third person and doesn’t skew specifically to one character or another, but the story follows either the guy or the girl. It’s been an interesting experiment. I’ve noticed that the guy chapters move faster for me and have a lot more going on. The girl chapters are slower and more emotional. This has nothing to do with my ability to write female characters (which I think I’m rather capable of doing), but more about what’s going on in their lives.

With chapter 9 (or 10 at the latest), I merge the two storylines. From there, I’ll be able to focus on either (or both) of the protagonists as well as turning the narrative onto two of the supporting characters. I’d turn the narrative onto the protagonist too, but aside from a minor character who acts as a conflict catalyst, the book’s protagonist is really the setting itself and the circumstances that setting has caused for the characters. There’s also a Macguffin thrown in there that swirls everything up for the cast.

It’s all so meta, huh?

On a scheduling front, I’ve finally managed to make Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays my writing days…2-3 hours after work on each day. A bit of structure always helps and sometimes forces me to write when I don’t really want to. Poor me.

As for book #2: I’m waiting. My agents have the updated manuscript and are, hopefully, reading it now. Fingers crossed that it moves forward…

 

And Now We Wait…

Edits, tweaks, new chapters, punched up dialogue…ALL the rewrites on Sleep Suits Irish are done. AGAIN.

The whole thing ended up being just over 77,000 words and 352 pages. Sent it off to my agents (in NYC and LA) Wednesday night. The waiting is the hardest part.

If you think about it, I’ve already been through a long, drawn-out round of rejections, and now I’m setting myself up for it again (when I spoke to the LA folks I think I heard mention of sending the book out to 20 or so producers). That’s like asking the cute girl out to the prom, having her say no, then going back the next day and asking her sexy but crazy best friend when the cute girl’s out of earshot.

Now I need to decompress and get my mind right to climb back on that horse called Book #3. Hopefully a weekend of mindless drinking will do it!

I used to think, if I didn’t have to have a “real” job, that I could easily write two books a year (maybe even 5 in 2 years). Now, with the rewrites and the mood swings and the regrouping and the dashed dreams and the Phoenix rising once again, I’m thinking maybe one and a half. It’s all so draining.

But hey, that still gives me time to catch up on entire seasons of the Rockford Files on DVD, so I guess there’s a silver lining…

 

Rewrites Begin Anew

For the first time in forever, I actually mapped out an entire book. I was re-reading Sleep Suits Irish yesterday and started bouncing back and forth among four or five chapters, trying to figure out where I could insert a key element and where I could fix two other plot points. It all got to be too much, so I decided to chart out the book chapter by chapter, on one long sheet of paper with a brief sentence for each. Worked like magic.

Today I will write the first of two new chapters that should add a completely different flavor to the book and some of its characters and their relationships.

I was also able to pinpoint exactly where I can punch up dialogue, insert character mentions, and generally smooth things out in at least 10 other chapters.

Amazing what a little bit of rough outlining can accomplish.

I’ve never been able to outline a book while I was writing it, because I tend to make up entire references, conversations, and general feelings while I’m writing. It’s not until I’ve written a chapter that I have an idea what can happen next. I mean, sure, I’ve got the overall beats in my head. I know (generally) how a book is going to play out from beginning to end in terms of what I want the story to accomplish. I just can’t reason that far ahead on the details.

However, it’s nice to know that I now have a new arrow in my quiver as far as what I can do at the end of a book (in addition to spell checks and grammar issues, making sure names match up, and making sure plot points aren’t left dangling) before sending it out into the world.

I’m assuming this isn’t a new thing to other writers and their processes, but at least I learn something new every day.

It’s All Different a Few Days Later

Right off the bat, I have to admit that being rejected sucks.

You don’t even realize how much it sucks until a day or two after it finally happens. And it’s such an odd phenomenon, because when your book gets sent out, it’s not to one person at a time. There’s no receiving line where an editor shakes your hand, reads your book, and hands it back to you with a snort or a disapproving head shake. No, your baby goes out to a dozen or more editors at once…the “Big 6” publishers, smaller imprints, some indie houses…and the rejections trickle in over weeks or months. If you’re anything like me, you do a quick Google search on the editors your agent has submitted to in order to determine if you recognize any of their back catalog, if any of the books they worked on are staring at you from the shelves across the family room. You may ultimately have a favorite or two that you’re waiting to hear from and the others don’t matter as much.

The range of rejections is understandably odd too. Some editors just say “Sorry, it wasn’t for me” while others praise your strong voice and solid writing and go in-depth about what they liked and how much they liked it but there’s that one thing they didn’t like (that’s probably easily fixable) that made them pass. Some rejections you shrug off and others you go back to and re-read over the course of a couple days, trying to parse some hidden meaning from them.

When that closing day hits though, and you know you’re not getting any more rejections or offers, it’s a dismal feeling. I had held out hope for a month that the one editor would come through. He seemed to really champion the book over the phone. He was as excited about it as I was when I wrote it. When it didn’t happen it was like getting punched in the gut on the school playground and being left gasping for air while the other kids went off to play dodgeball without you. Not that that ever happened to me…

Basically, I was in a funk for the past week or so. Couple that with the fact that I hadn’t written anything substantial on Book #3 in a month, and you may be able to understand why I’ve been feeling like a failure, like nothing will every change, like I’m not even spinning my wheels but rather sitting on the curb staring at the parked car instead. My first two books went nowhere. My third book isn’t moving forward. Things look bleak.

My shiny little ace-in-the-hole is the fact that the agency’s LA office still likes the book. There’s still a window to sell it to some producer somewhere. The setting is gritty. The characters are complex. The plot is unique.

Well, I just got off the phone with the LA office and I can tell you they REALLY like the book. We had a great conversation…up to the point where we started talking about rewrites and I hemmed and hawed a bit too long for their comfort (I think). Last night, I had re-read a chapter of Book #3 and I had discovered an angle I didn’t see before. My interest in writing Book #3 was back on track and now this phone call happened.

My mind flashed back to writing Book #2 when I was doing rewrites on Book #1 and how odd and disjointed it all felt. My last blog post talked about how Book #2 was in the past now and I was moving forward.

Well, like any good writer, I lied.

Rewrites for Book #2 are happening NOW. I’m going to fix the ending, to satisfy the LA office. I’m also going to implement some of the changes that the one editor and I had talked about. I sent an email to the LA office telling them to give me two weeks. It may not be a full, comprehensive rewrite, but it should be adequate to fix some issues and reposition some characters. If I do enough, my agent may even send it back out to a few editors who gave us rejections along the lines of “I may have liked it more IF…”

Bottom line is: I’m rejuvenated.

Let’s see where all of this stands in another two weeks…

What’s the Next Step?

Project #1 was pitched last year. There seemed to be one editor interested in it. I went away on vacation in August, hoping to get a call from my agent that never came. That project has now been tossed in the archive…maybe some day, if I ever get published, someone will want to trot out a collection of my early work. If not, it’ll just rot.

Project #2 has now run its course. At least at the “Big 6” level. And at least through its first round of submissions. The question now is what to do with it next. Like I mentioned yesterday, there’s talk of trying to sell the film rights. I’m waiting to hear from the LA office about what that might entail. I’ve heard they want a “happy ending” for Hollywood, instead of the realistic ending I slapped on it. My question is, why rewrite it at all? Aren’t the film people going to just do whatever they want with it once they secure the rights? Maybe they’ll like my current ending. Maybe they’ll like everything. Hell, maybe they’ll go in and change all the characters names and ethnicities and have it take place on a cruise ship in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. At that point, check in hand, what do I care?

On some level, my agent is thinking about asking me to do a more substantial rewrite and try to re-submit it to the two or three editors who said “I might be interested IF…”, but I’m not sure I have it in me. There’s an old saying that’s been attributed to William Faulkner (or Twain or Fitzgerald or King or Christie or Nabakov) that says “Kill your darlings.” It’s meant as a warning to writers to not hold on to some bit of plot or character or dialogue just because you may like it. Don’t try to wedge it into your story because you think it’s so clever. If it doesn’t work, scrap it.

After having an idea in your head for more than 10 years and finally getting it out on paper, there’s a finite amount of additional time you’re willing to spend with it before it bores you, angers you, or disappoints you. I’m approaching that limit faster than a greased seal going through a bobsled course. When I conference called that one editor, and he was feeding me ideas for making the book stronger, I was all on board. When that editor ultimately failed to come through with an offer, I was deflated. Not sure I see the point of going through it all again on the slim chance it may succeed.

That brings me to Project #3. I just finished writing chapter 7 and I’m at 22,000 words and 98 pages. By the time chapter 8 is finished, I’ll be a third of the way through the book, which feels perfect for where the plot is headed. The second third gets into the meat of things. And then the final third brings it all snowballing downhill gracefully. I’ve been a bit lax with reading chapters out loud and marking them up. I still need to do so with 5, 6, and now 7. And, in a haze of rejection, disillusionment, and general laziness, I may have stepped on a few plot points that I wasn’t ready to accelerate yet. May need to go back and re-plot the next few chapters to cover it…or “kill my darlings” of dialogue and character interaction that I wrote. As long as I can keep busy, I’ll be able to slough off the frustration of having two novels fail to make it to print.

Oh, the fragile ego of the lonely writer.

At least I can look back at my past work and know that my writing is getting stronger. Maybe Project #3 will be the one. If not, I’ve already got numbers 4, 5, 6, and 7 germinating in my head (and in my notebook).

I hope to make these updates more often. And I hope to have some good news soon…