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A new year, a new book

standard January 14, 2013 4 responses

I finished the first draft of my first novel almost four years ago, two long years after starting it. Then it took me over two years to rewrite it twice and polish it to the point I considered it done. That, in itself, was well over a year ago.

Essentially I haven’t actively been writing (other than blogging) for a long, long time.

It took sending the novel off to a friend this week for me to realize that.

At first I really missed the act of writing something more substantial than a 400 word piece. But I kept forcing myself to focus on the novel edits, to not get sidetracked, and eventually, I stopped missing it.

I know I’ve been otherwise preoccupied, but I still find that hard to wrap my brain around.

I think of myself as a novelist, but it seems to me that to truly be one it helps to actually be writing a novel, or at least have written more than one book that only a handful of people have read. In the last four years, other than a short stint trying my hand at writing a cozy mystery that had been bouncing around my head and editing the existing book, I haven’t really been doing anything novel related at all.

It was easy to say “I’m focusing on getting an agent!” “I need to rework the book again!” “I can’t afford to get distracted from my publishing goals!” when, in reality, I just didn’t have a story I really wanted to tell.

I have  a folder on my computer labeled “Novel Ideas,” which is packed with different ideas I’ve dreamed up over the last five years. Some of them are silly, some of them are actually quite good and have some serious potential, but none of them were begging to be told. For various reasons I don’t feel ready to tackle the ones with potential.

One of my big “brave” goals for the year is to self-publish this novel of mine, so I’ve spent the last two weeks researching publishing options, looking for cover artists, hunting down trustworthy editors, and generally thinking about the best ways to market the book.

It wasn’t until I jumped into the shower late on Friday (what, don’t you do your best thinking in the shower too?) that I realized I was missing a key element to my plan.

What’s the first thing you do when you finish reading a great book? That’s right, you go see what else the author has written.

I have no other book. I don’t even have one in draft mode.

So there I was, in the shower, finally washing my hair and enjoying a quiet moment, wondering why I wasn’t writing something more substantial than somewhat infrequent blog posts. And I asked myself “If you were to start a book tomorrow, what story would it tell?”

And BAM, the story came to me. At first it was just a nugget. I played with it a bit and it grew, then, like magic, the story line unfolded in my head.

I rinsed my hair, threw on some pajamas and quietly went to hide in my office. An hour later I was still taking frantic notes.

There are two kinds of novelists. Some are pantsers.  They start their stories with just an idea and they let the story and characters guide them as they write. Some are outliners. They map out the whole story before hitting the keyboard.

I’ve always fancied myself a pantser, but in reality, I’ve started two books without knowing where the story was going to go and both petered out; they’re both patiently waiting in the computer for inspiration to strike. The novel I did finish had an end before it had a middle. I knew where I was going to start and I knew exactly how it was going to end; the middle grew as the characters came to life.

On Friday the premise of this new story came to me in the shower. Two hours later, by the time the children were tucked into their beds and I was making dinner for M, I knew where it would end and what road the characters would take to get there.

I’m not the same person I was when I started my first novel. The kids are bigger and I have a much better sense of who I am and what I can do. I can only hope that it won’t take me two years to write the book and another two to edit it. But right now I’m not thinking beyond getting the words out of my head and into the computer. I have characters waiting to be given a voice and my fingers are itching to get started.

It’s good to be back.

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