I’ve heard it said ‘You don’t learn to write; you learn to write each novel.’
I’ve written out of order and re-ordered scenes. I’ve written chronologically. I’ve cut out important secondary characters. I’ve cut the last 30,000 words and rewritten the end; I’ve cut the first 10,000 and rewritten the beginning. I’ve written longhand and on a computer; revised longhand and on a computer.
This is the first time I will change the names of one or both of the main characters when I’ve already written the entire story arc. It’s the first time I’ve decided that I don’t have enough POV scenes of a third character and I’m writing an entire story line to layer in on top of what I’ve already written. It’s the first time I’ve thought so analytically about what that story line has to be, rather than going on instinct and subconscious promptings. It’s the first time I’ve thought, “I want to mess with people’s heads with this one.” It’s the first time I’ve been so ambitious. It’s the first time I’ve really doubted I could do this, that I had the skills to do this—that sounds like I never doubted I could write a novel or never doubted my writing skills. That’s not true. But this is the first time I’ve known the kind of emotional impact I want to achieve and doubted that I could do it. With previous novels I wanted to tell a fun story. I want to do that now, but I want to give the reader a specific taste in their mouths, a flavor of emotion, when they close the book and I don’t have a map for that.
I’ve struggled with this book since its beginning, just a flash of a scene during NANO in 2011 when the book I had set out to write fell flat and short and I doodled to meet the word count to “win.” A boy and a girl, jumping into a canal and breathing water, scared, worried, awed. I was awed that I could write anything at all, after a year of death and worry and a marriage that felt like it was on the rocks and money worries and illness and no writing at all, at all.
It took a long time to figure out what it was about, to figure out the world, to figure out who the characters were and stop them from randomly murdering people I didn’t want them to murder. After Viable Paradise I couldn’t work on it at all, with too much new stuff crammed into my head to think about and work through. I took a six-month break. I rewrote an older MS that I still loved. I came back to the twins book (almost everyone in the MS is a twin—why not? I get to make the rules and it’s a cool idea) and it’s not as bad as I thought. Well, parts of it are soul suckingly awful. But other parts are kind of amazing and I think, “I wrote that??”
So I’m making color-coded index cards and re-arranging them (even though I’m using Scrivener which has color-coded index cards that can be re-arranged) and sometimes just holding them and thinking and procrastinating and panting after a much better shinier idea that will just be so much easier than this…And I’m learning to write this novel.