Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Net Gains

Now Playing: MEMORYHOUSE by Max Richter
Just Read: RAIN GODS by James Lee Burke--It was okay. I liked the gruff characters and settings but I thought the story ran a bit long and the big climax let me down--set up for a sequel when I thought it should have just ended.

Back in November 2013 I won NaNoWriMo with my novel "Star Born," a story about a girl on an interstellar ship who discovers a plot to sabotage its upcoming landing, and the steps she takes to try to stop it. I wrote about 55K in one month and was very proud of myself.

What I really took away from NaNoWriMo was what exactly it took to achieve those kinds of gains--the time commitment, having the story constantly on my mind, asking questions to uncover plot holes, and planning chapters out on scrap paper to help fill in said holes. Spoiler alert: It's mainly a lot of hard work. But we knew that already, didn't we?

Something happened then in December, 2013. I had this novel, right? I knew it was basically finished--I figured it was 2/3 at least, as I was aiming for about 75K before I wrote THE END. But after the frenetic energy of November died away, I lost momentum. I stopped knowing where the story was supposed to go. I stopped realizing twists and turns were ahead. In short, I didn't know how to finish it, and I moved on.

That's right. With this massive project so close to completion, I left it unfinished to wallow.

Of course, I didn't stop writing. I just stopped writing "Star Born." Instead I refocused my efforts on the Writers of the Future contest and wrote stories I thought would be good for it. These stories ended up submitted to other places in the meantime, and I had a handful published. Not a lot, and not very frequently, but some success at least came my way.

Still, "Star Born" lay undone, always in the back of my mind like a guilty conscience, prodding me to do the morally right thing and finish the damn story. Sometimes, something in my life would remind me of "Star Born" and plant an idea. Then nothing for months. Then another idea.

Finally, in November 2015, two years after I originally started, I thought I had enough ideas collected that I could maybe pull off completing the novel. I got to work. It was a trudge--a slow, weary walk of a story trying to dig some steam and energy from somewhere and reach the finish line. The heat and passion of NaNoWriMo were absent.

Something else was present, though: the day-to-day grit I had developed in the interim. See, writing gets better with practice--it's a bit like strength training that way--and when I revisited the novel I was stronger than I was two years earlier. All the stories I wrote while "Star Born" sat ignored actually gave me the skills I needed. And this month, at long last, I wrote THE END.

The story isn't finished, of course. One thing being away from it for so long did was help identify parts where massive edits are needed. So now I'm going back through it and making those changes. I'm on Chapter 4 of 18. I think a reasonable goal is to have the edits finished by the end of February.

In the meantime, of course, I'll keep writing and keep submitting. I was a bit embarrassed and ashamed that "Star Born" languished for so long, but in the end I think it's a net gain. I have a completed novel, the best I've ever written. And I have all the stories I wrote since December 2013--at least one per month. I'm not going to be too hard on myself. The point is this: I kept writing, and with patience and persistence, my hard work paid off.

Hard work tends to do that.

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