Once Upon a Time, Once More

butterfly-net

And just like that, I’m nearly two-thirds of the way through the rewrite of my WIP.

I should rephrase that: I’m two-thirds through the second draft of my WIP, with an as-yet-undetermined number more to go after that.

And it’s not exactly “just like that” either, for I’ve been hard at work on this draft since January.  This has involved, in addition to multiple rewrites of chapters one through three, a first crack at the additional 15 chapters I’ve completed to date some of which were in much better shape than others.

But it really does sort of feel like yesterday was reading through the my complete first draft for the first time, marking up the hundreds of hard copy pages as if with stage directions and binding each chapter with a colour-coded paperclip to symbolize the extent of its revision needs.

It is this latter act that I attribute as the secret of my success thus far.  By breaking down a larger whole into a number of smaller, less intimidating parts, I’ve been able to work steadily on each immediate goal (revise one chapter), to achieve measurable progress, and to remain encouraged to stick to the larger goal.

So much so has this method helped and encouraged me, I’m cautiously anticipating reaching both the end of this draft and the question of what will come next.

More drafts, most likely, obviously, will come next.  But I’m referring to what comes next next, on the day my “work-in-progress” has become merely “my work”.

That is to say, when it’s time to start writing my next novel.

On the premises

Yes, I’m thinking about that already – this despite my hope to traditionally publish this current book, along with the two subsequent books in the series.  Were this to actually happen, it would preclude the need for a brand new novel – one with all new characters set in a completely different story world – for years.

Thinking through ideasI’m thinking about it now because it takes me a long time to come up with ideas for brand new novels.

Many writers come up with story ideas the way they come up with their next breath.

For them, the question of what to write next is like trying to choose your favourite child: they all have so much potential; with the right amount of love and encouragement, they could all be great.

But there is only so much time: only so many hours in a day, only so many days in one’s life.  And so these sorts of writers who are blessed with a bounty of story ideas have to make Choices.

I’m not like that; I don’t have an endless cache of novel ideas waiting to be seized upon.

Admittedly, I’m often heard saying “That’d make a good idea for a story”.  But I make the statement in that exact way: that would make a good idea (rather than that is).  Because it would – for some other writer who can figure out how to transform a random premise into a complete story.

I was able to do that once, with my WIP, but it was very slow in coming.

The initial spark of the premise occurred to me from a throwaway remark made in a fantasy novel I was reading at the time.  From that inspired moment to the final draft of my outline (which still ended up changing significantly once I actually started writing) took almost two years.

Part of the reason I outline is to make sure I can actually turn an idea into a full-blown plot.

Searching for the story

I actually believe I’ve already had the idea for every novel I will write in my lifetime.

Most of these occurred to me in my early- to mid-20s, and have been in a holding pattern ever since.

daily-life-of-the-ancient-greeks-coverMy ideas tend to come in historical wrappings, which further requires considerable time spent doing research.  The next novel I plan to write will be set in Ancient Greece.

I don’t have too much more to go on with it so far other than a handful of keywords: gods and their diminishing influence, slaves, Spartans, diverse characters, deception, war, disguises, and a few more I’ll keep under my hat for now.

Much of my lack of insight is owing to my not yet knowing what is possible.  I experienced the same thing with my WIP.  I struggled with the outline because I kept trying to compose it before I’d conducted enough historical research.

I all along had an inkling of the story I wanted to tell – the story of a nobleman trying to claim his inheritance and the significant role a lady plays in helping him do so.  But I found so much of the story as it now exists in the research itself, each new fact or concept I learned having refining my understanding of what I was actually trying to write.

I’m counting on this same thing happening in my next novel.  I should rephrase that: I’m desperately hoping and praying the same thing happens.

I console myself with whispers of, “It’s in the research.  The story already exists within the research – you just need to keep reading to find it”.

Or prior to about a month ago, “You just need to start reading to find it”.

I’ve finally cracked the cover of Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks, which for two running now has been on my summer to-do list.  I also recently added Women in Classical Antiquity and The Complete World of Greek Mythology to my collection.

These are the first of many reference books I’ll need to bring my knowledge anywhere near to what I have of medieval England, for which I had pre-existing familiarity and a lifelong interest besides.

Two years is a long time to put off doing anything, especially for me who is not a procrastinator by nature.  But in this instance, I can’t attribute it to anything else but that.

I’ve written about my writing fears before but if I’m to be honest with myself, this might well be the biggest one of all: that because I’m not overflowing with ideas like other writers – because I like to write about things I don’t naturally know about; because I don’t even know in detail what I plan to write next – maybe there is no next.

Maybe my WIP is all I’ve got in me.  A fluke.  After spending so much of my life just working on one story, do I even have it in me to do the same thing all over again? Maybe I’m a one-trick pony who mightn’t even get the chance to showcase that one trick in the manner that I desire (i.e. getting traditionally published).

It’s a heavy burden to carry.  Some days, I feel myself shrinking beneath the weight of it.  Yet when you fear a certain outcome and then don’t do the one thing that can help prevent it, the result becomes both a vicious circle and self-fulfilling prophecy.

I don’t want to believe this outcome could be true and especially don’t want it to be true, which is why I’m carrying on as if it’s not.

I’m feeling the fear and doing it anyway, for while this won’t guarantee success, not doing so will definitely guarantee failure.

Do you come up with story ideas easily?  What sorts of ideas do you typically have?  Where do they come from?  Let me know in the comments.

(Image source #1, #2, and #3)

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12 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time, Once More

  1. There was the previous series, abandoned to pursue the current trilogy – I’d like to get back to that, even though in the intervening time it has gone from ‘mystery’ to ‘historical mystery’! (That’s what happens when you get sidetracked for 15 years.)

    I’d like to develop that character further – I didn’t do her justice, and there was a lot in her I liked.

    I want to do another series with a premise I have a lot of research on – but I don’t have a real solution to the way I want to do the detective in that series, and it is a very different series depending on the gender of the main character (maybe it should be a pair).

    My problem is being very slow in execution, but I think I could come up with a few more – as long as it’s still fun to write.

    Maybe your subconscious will let out a bunch of ideas it’s been saving – when you’re not in the middle of so many things already.

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    • The next novel I want to write that I referred to in this post is also an abandoned one that I’m trying to give new life. Like yours, mine also changed genres in the intervening time (which for me was also approximately 15 years). In addition, it’s since undergone a major thematic change. Because of this, I’ll be forced to do a blank page rewrite. But this is probably for the best, for thought of sifting through some 900 pages of dead, amateur prose (I kid you not) holds very little interest for me.

      I’m very slow in execution as well; I feel your pain, or at least a version of it. It may be that my subconscious will let loose a bunch of new ideas but that still not to say I’ll be around long enough to do anything with them.

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      • Save the good feelings, the good characters, the stuff that still excites you.

        My suggestion: dump most of the dialogue. And maybe all of the description. That’s where your earlier, more amateur writing is concentrated.

        If you start with the part that gives your heart satisfaction, you’ll be fine.

        I think I try to save too much from the earlier rough draft, especially in the dialogue – but would do better to start from scratch. I think I’ve gotten much better at it.

        But what I do – and what a healthy writer who can keep a bunch of stuff in mind at the same time can do – are entirely different beasts. I re-use because I’m afraid I might not be able to generate new stuff (I always do – stupid worry).

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      • Alicia, you’ve put this perfectly: Save the good feelings, the good characters, the stuff that still excites you. That is the plan. I will save the emotions around specific plot points but the actual events and the writing that created them will most likely all go. As I mentioned, that first (incomplete) draft was some 900 pages. It’ll be quicker to rewrite it all than trying to excavate the odd gem from that mess.

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  2. Well, I doubt I’m the font of inspiration, since I tend to be cynical about most things, but I will say no one ever wrote a book just thinking about it. Your next novel won’t write itself, so it looks like you’re stuck with the job.

    As we’ve discussed in the past, most of my ideas go nowhere if I try to conceive the story in advance. I must begin with no more than a seed, water it, and see what grows.

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    • no one ever wrote a book just thinking about it
      Not YET they haven’t; just wait until thought-to-text becomes a thing. I give it 5-7 years tops.

      As to the rest of your comment, yes, I do recall that about your writing style. For myself, to carry on with your gardening metaphor, I need to start with a start – a pre-germinated seed of some proven viability that is then transplanted into fertile ground. But then you already knew that about my writing style.

      And yes, you are an irredeemable cynic.

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  3. I usually come up with an idea for a novel when I’m half way through one – that’s why I love to write two (or more) at a time. As soon as I have the idea I started writing it and if I get writer’s block I go back to the old one. I’m weird like that, but it works for me 🙂

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    • We are sort of the same in this regard. I like to have a new idea percolating while at work on a novel (I purposely encourage this), but as yet, have never had one well-formed enough to actually write two novels at once. The best I can hope for is a new story to think about during those times I get tired of pondering and working on the current one.

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  4. Congratulations on slowly making your way through the re-write process. You still have a ways to go but you’re getting closer and closer to that end.

    My ideas don’t come easily to me, I have maybe seven solid ones I hope to turn into books. Usually they come from random places, I can see a commercial and something in it can spark and idea that leads to a story. A music video was the catalyst that jump started me working on my current WIP.

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    • You’re doing well with seven solid ideas, and now I’m really curious to know what that music video was, or at least who the artist was!

      The genesis of my WIP was a throwaway line from a novel I read years ago – just something one character said to explain that arrival of a couple other characters that had nothing to do with the story’s main plot. Still, I had to work that idea for years to turn into something I could actually start writing.

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