By Andrew E. Kaufman
This is a weird phase in my novel-writing career. I now have two books under my belt. It’s exciting. It’s invigorating. Feels like I’m on my way to being semi-prolific.
But it also feels a little strange. I’ve gone from putting the final polish on one book, to once again, staring at a blank page. Kind of like going from a beautifully sculpted statue to a formless lump of wet clay. I have some idea of what I want it to look like, but not a clue yet how to go about getting it there.
One step forward, two steps back? Well, yeah, sort of.
Since it’s only my third novel, I don't think I'm at the point where I find this part of the process exciting. Don't know if I ever will. Many do—they see the endless possibilities before them, new worlds yet to be imagined. They reach into their vast Bag of Ideas filled with stories waiting to be told, then with a flourish, pull one out. Not me. I don’t even have an idea bag; all I have is lots of anxiety.
I do my best in a structured environment, so finding my story, plotting the elements, then knitting them into a finely woven tale is always my biggest challenge. I spend a lot of time at this stage staring at walls with a blank expression on my face and equally blank thoughts running through my mind. I cuss a lot, play lots of word games on my computer, chew my fingernails, and cuss some more.
Then there are the false starts: times when I think I have it, only to realize that I don’t. I pitch the once-promising, now-disappointing manuscripts into recycle bin, start all over again. Cuss some more. This can happen anywhere from six to eight times.
In the beginning, I used to fret a lot, wondering if I could do this, and even worse, why I do this. But with experience comes a degree of confidence. Now I sit back and trust the process, knowing that things will eventually fall into place if I let them. I’ve learned to squash the nay-saying demons within, the ones who try and tell me that the first two novels were just flukes, that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, that I will fail.
The good news, I suppose, is that I’m not alone. Other authors tell me this is normal, that they too go through the same experience. There’s comfort in that, knowing I’m not alone, but also, there’s a degree of sadness, too; it makes me realize that after I finish this one, the process will rear its ugly head once again.
But for now, I've managed to triumph, once again. Over the weekend I found my story, and once again I’m on my way, busy at work on my third novel. The lump of clay is taking shape.
The process of creation is exciting in a terrible way, isn't it?ReplyDelete
One of my favorite books on writing is WRITE AWAY by Elizabeth George. She keeps a journal for every book she writes. Here's what she wrote in her journal on June 1, 2001:
"Beginning a book is terrifying. I can see why some writers go from book to book at a pace that allows them virtually no time off. I don't want to live that way, and as a result, I have to face my demon fear each time I begin a novel. But Steinbeck faced it; Marquez continues to face it. If Nobel Prize winners can admit their fears, so can I."
It seems that at almost every stage of the process, we have demons that must be faced.
Congratulations on finding your story. Most excellent.
I feel your pain Andrew. Sort of. I've never been short on ideas but as a new author I feel like I am feeling my way around a darkened room with no idea how big it is or when my fingers will hit a mousetrap. I envy all of you who have crossed the "published" bridge and at least have some understanding of the room dimensions. I agree with you that you just have to trust the process and keep moving forward even if that path takes you off course from time to time. Movement is always preferred to stagnation.ReplyDelete
Drew, I'm in the middle of your latest novel, The Lion, The Lamb and The Hunted, and I'm just loving it! It's got everything I want in a thriller: a great protagonist I warmed up to immediately, some nasty villains, an intriguing, exciting, edge-of-your seat story, plenty of suspense and conflict, a very appealing "voice," excellent, natural-sounding dialogue, and a lean, polished fiction-writing style, perfect for thrillers.ReplyDelete
So I know you can do it again! And again and again! Go for it!
I understand this anxiety! I felt that way after every novel, until I'd written six or seven books. It's still a challenge, but now I trust that the ideas will come to me. And I've never had a bag of story ideas either. I keep a file of ideas, but they're just snippets and starting places. The development process still takes weeks. Congratulations on finding your story! I'm sure it will be terrific.ReplyDelete
Peg, I actually have that book, but would you believe I haven't read it yet? I'm going to make a point of it now that you've mentioned it. I need to hear about other authors and their demons.ReplyDelete
Tom, I'd imagine ideas are never an issue, considering your line of work is probably a wealth of stories waiting to be written. As for feeling your way around in the dark, I still do it with each novel. Problem is, the walls seem to expand each time. Sometimes I feel as though I'm chasing them...in the dark.
Jodie, I'm thrilled you're enjoying my new book! As you know, this was a huge genre hop for me, and I was nervous about how my readers would receive it. And your compliments go a long way, considering you make your living helping authors improve their work.
L.J. Glad I'm not the only one who takes weeks to develop my story. As always, I enjoy getting your experienced perspective--which is why I'm constantly bugging you for it--and I feel some relief knowing it gets a little easier.
I can relate to a lot of what you say here. Good post, BTW. For me (about to publish my 2nd and start my third), it's not lack of ideas, though. I have ideas, but I hate the feeling of standing at the bottom of the mountain even if I know that I can make it to the top.ReplyDelete
Frustration is part of the game, though, I guess. And it makes victory sweeter. Good luck!
YOU WILL NOT FAIL.ReplyDelete
Can you just accidentally drop your rejects into my email inbox instead of recycling???ReplyDelete
Me, too. The only way I can manage a first draft is to write a chapter a day of whatever length. After a month or so I have a draft--ugly, some parts incomprehensible, some just plain bad. But a draft, and I can go on to the parts I like, the revisions. I've heard a rumor there are soem strange folk who actually like writing first drafts, but I think it's an urban legend.ReplyDelete