Monday, February 25, 2008

Being true to the heart of the book

What I feel like writing about today is abstract and unclear in my mind. It's just a sensation that I've been getting, and I don't really have good examples or good vocabulary for it.

I've been doing a lot of "thinking" about the book. Sitting around with the outline in front of me and saying "what if . . ." There's lots of brainstorming of possible plot developments and then walking through each of the chapters and making notes on what would need to be added or changed.

What I'm really doing is trying to resolve the big problem that is at the heart of this project--that my character isn't very active. That's simply one of the weaknesses of my writing--that I'm more comfortable with theme, setting, character and tone than I am with plot. I can set the soldiers up in the sandbox, but I'm less effective at making them march.

So in my brainstorming I'll come up with something and additional problems will emerge. One, it' s tempting to slide back into my comfort zone--to think about the action the character takes in Chapter 1 but not sustain it and have it keep building in later chapters while I get more interested in exploring the variation on the theme that I've created.

Two, I don't have a good ear for the plot elements or, more important, making sure it's integrated with theme and character and the rest. So the stuff I'm brainstorming feels tinny--tacked on and isolated. It doesn't excite me and adding it in feels like an errand rather than a way to develop the book.

Last--and this is the thing that interests me the most right now--in concentrating on this thing that feels like a chore, it feels like I'm losing track of the heart of the book. I have to keep trying to remind myself what is interesting and powerful and unique about it. (Because the plot stuff I'm brainstorming doesn't feel powerful to me.)

And sometimes I wonder if the heart of the book is exactly the thing I'm trying to "fix"--the tendency for my character not to act. To what extent is that a lack of imagination on my part and to what extent is that the story itself, unique to this character?

Which is another way of saying, I don't really have a resolution to the essential technical problem in the book. What action is required for the book to be interesting; for it to be believable; for it to be true to its own heart and essential character?

I'm at sea a little bit. While I'm trying to figure out what I'm trying to figure out, it's hard to keep up the actual writing habit. I don't know what I'm doing.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Forest for the trees

Well, I "worked" for an hour or a little more this morning, but the process of rewriting that I have been engaged in is suspended. I'm doing a major rethink of the story. Scary but necessary.

The month off--as with any writing--means I'm seeing it with fresh eyes. Right now I am better seeing the forest along with the trees. The hard part is that I don't like what I see. There is something very basic lacking in my story. I've known it all along. It pops into my consciousness occassionally. And now I'm able to grasp it better than I did before . . . hopefully well enough to resolve it.

So this morning I printed out my outline, laid it out on a table in front of me and started doing some basic brainstorming. Talking out loud to myself while I paced around the house. I came up with some possible solutions. They are incomplete and imperfect, but it was good progress for an hour of work, and hopefully it's enough to stew on that the rest of the solution will come to me soon.

Whenver that happens, it would mean some serious rewriting of the chapters I've already worked through. I don't like to think about that.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Crisis of confidence

I "worked" about an hour this morning. It was about the skimpiest kind of work--mostly just sitting around daydreaming about the book. The little I did write was to no real purpose.

I'm having a plain vanilla crisis. I'm not sure that the book has an interesting story, and I can't figure a way to make it interesting. And I'm afraid to think about that too hard, because I know whatever solution I come up with is going to mean a ton of work on material I want to be behind me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mostly drafting

I wrote about 1,200 new words today, so it was like old time a little bit. But in a way that feels like part of the problem. It feels like I keep writing the same scene over and over. It's in different settings, and it's fun to come up with the details, but I don't feel like I'm advancing my characters. They just keep having the same fights. That's the problem with the existing draft, and when I do some new writing I just seem to keep layering on more of the same.

I'm getting this sensation more and more that I need a really big rethink of the book and how it develops. It's a dreadful feeling.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Radical changes

About 90 minutes at the desk this morning, and it was a slog. Easily distracted. What I ended up doing was rethinking what happens in Chapter 5. I keep coming to the conclusion that the chapter needs to be cut out because it now seems to repeat what has been established in previous chapters since I rewrote those. Continuing to work on it today led me into that territory again.

I'm trying to find a way to work with it. One, because I don't want to get rid of it. It's my precious baby. Two, if it was gone entirely, it effects some other later chapters--something has to be going on at this point in the story for the sake of transitions and build up.

So, I've been trying to think of it this way--the scenario and setting can work even if the specific things that play out and the tone don't work anymore. I ask myself, what my character (who I understand very differently now than when I originally drafted and who is at a different place now anyway as a consequence of the rewriting in previous chapters) do in this situation?

And the answer is that he would do very very different things, which means pretty radical changes in the chapter. It's really starting all over with it. I can hardly do any copying and pasting, because even the details that might be useful are set up in the wrong tone.

The whole prospect is pretty daunting.

I'm starting to regret that I didn't use my month off from the book better by at least keeping it in my mind and stewing on some of these problems.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Timeline and lowered expectations

Right now I'm thinking that a good goal would be to finish my "rewrite" of Part 1--which makes up about 2/3 of the total length--by about mid-May. I'd like to move at a quicker pace, and had started this process assuming a much quicker pace, but experience so far has told me that it's about 3 weeks/chapter. And even then the progress made on that rewrite, while necessary and important, isn't what I had assumed at the beginning. More rewriting will be called for later.

After May I'll have a two-month period where I'm unlikely to work on the book at all because of some other stuff going on. It's possible I can set up a routine to work every day during that period, but this other thing is a rare and important opportunity and I don't want to tether myself prematurely, so I'm planning on that period being unavailable for progress on the novel.

So, assuming a return to work on August 1, I would be fortunate to finish the rewrite of Part 2 sometime between Thanksgiving and December.

That is a very disappointing conclusion to reach after the expectations I started with, but I don't see any way around it. Well, I see ways to improve on it--don't give up those two months this summer, be disciplined about adding some time each day. But I don't see a way to get close to my starting expectation, which was something like one chapter a week, finishing in about 15 weeks or so. I'm already way past that, and I'm still working on Chapte r5.

The timeline for the whole book, all the rewrites that will be necessary, is starting to look more like years than months.

I'm back

Today is President's Day, and I haven't worked at all on my book since around Martin Luther King Day. Just about 4 weeks exactly. I regretted it the whole time and worried about what it meant--if I was committed, if I would ever return.

But I'm back now. I put in about an hour this morning, mostly just going over familiar territory, but I got myself up to a point where I'll be working on the rewrite tomorrow from where I left off.

The break was the result of having a lot of other work to do. I think it was the right decision. I wasn't procrastinating. I wasn't inflating the other work. I really did need the time to concentrate on that work. It was enough that I've actually been pretty exhausted the last week.

I still have a lot of other work going on, but I'm past a bunch of deadlines (though with more coming up), but I'm hopeful that it's on a more manageable schedule. And I think the end result is that I've established things financially that will be good for the novel in the long run. So, I wish I hadn't had to be away from the book, but no regrets. As long as I'm able to maintain my morning routine now.