I am not quitting! (even though tonight I think my novel sucks)

Today was one of those days. Finally got time to work on the book after a hectic week of play rehearsals and teaching, and decided to look back at my overall structure. This is not the first time. The first time was after my workshop told me they loved the beginning of my novel and the whole last half, but that there was a solid chunk in the middle that really dragged. So one balmy evening in May, I sat down on the porch with my aerospace engineer husband and hashed out the problems with the plot. I ended up backwards plotting from the end of the book all the way to the beginning, abiding by one principle: be absolutely ruthless. What this meant was that a significant portion of the novel ended up being rewritten, not heavily revised, but completely rewritten, from scratch. I sucked it up, dumped those 60 pages in the trash, and went on with the novel and my life. Over the next eighteen months, I ended up rewriting an even more substantial part of the novel, until my second draft barely resembled the first. The concept is the same and so are most of the characters, but the whole novel is tighter, leaner, and cleaner--except for a very frustrating 40 pages.

They're annoying me because they are very near what is now the beginning of the novel, and they do set a lot of very important things up. The problem is that there are too many threads and they aren't weaving together. They do later, but they aren't coming together right then. The result ends up being several tight, tense scenes back to back, followed by a few more leisurely background scenes, also back to back--and therein lies my problem.

I see that. I have seen that. I want to fix it. But for the life of me, I can't figure out how. I can't figure out how to organize that material, and I can't figure out which parts of the subplots to develop, and how to develop them without detracting from the main plot. Today I sat with what I think could be a gem of a manuscript, but there's just that one big flaw. There are other smaller problems throughout, of course, but that's the major problem. 5 out of 33 chapters. That's it--but because it's near the beginning of the novel, it's everything!

Tomorrow after church, I will come back and get the index cards. I will read and comment to student fiction and work yet again on my own. I will do what I've done before, so many times--I will map this out, and I will be ruthless.

That's what I will do tomorrow. But tonight I am in tears.


Hang in there, Kathryn! We're all pulling for you.
Mylène said…
By now you will have dried your tears, and I hope will hear me when I tell you that that was one of the most lucid analyses of one's own work I have every read. It takes talent not just to write, but to know when something isn't good enough. It takes courage not to let it slide. It takes heart for it to mean so much to you that you weep in the quest for mastery. It takes insight to parse the problem and grope toward the solution. You have all of these. You are almost there.

Remember that the frustration you are feeling right now is not ordinary, and that is why it is intense. It is what the choreographer Martha Graham calls "divine dissatisfaction." You are trying to make something that is fit and meet--something that refuses to be pedestrian. This connects you and your struggle to all the angels of better creation. It would be easier just to let those chapters stumble inadequately along. But you refuse to. And therein lies your gift.

This thought doesn't necessarily make it any easier while you're struggling, I know. But whenever I reach the same kind of impasse, I remember Graham. I may feel lost, groveling, lowly. But this is an error in my perception. I am dancing. I am burning with the same hectic fire as the stars. And eventually will burn my way through.

LOVE this, Mylene:
"I am burning with the same hectic fire as the stars. And eventually will burn my way through."

What a great way to look at the painful disparity between what's imagined and our limited ability to get it down on paper.
Joni Rodgers said…
That way way too good a response to be lost in the comments section, Mylene. Hope you won't mind me posting to main page.
Mylène said…
Well, shucks, not at all, Joni, and thanks, Colleen, and big sparks to Katherine, who--fair bet--is working as we speak.
Working, kvetching, crying, and now going for wine and chocolate. Ha. I will feel better when I can at least get back to the actual WRITING. It's the architectural level that ALWAYS gets me. But through doing my "mapping," I've just uncovered two more places where there are either extraneous scenes or scenes that don't work well together. So I am trying to figure out how to break them up and use the subplot(s) to deepen (rather than distract from) the story.

Thank you all for your comments. I hope I can "burn my way through" Mylene, I really do. But there are some days I wonder whether I'd just be better off cutting my losses. It's been a long time since I wrote something new that wasn't a scene in this book, and part of me yearns to do so. But then a stronger part of me says "no, put your head back down and try it again," because it really does feel almost there.

There's just so much I wanted this to do!
Larry Bernard Mitchell said…
Oh my, how I can relate to what you are experiencing. But, it is one thing that I am absolutely sure of - and that is that YOU will defeat this problem. I know you. I know your determination, and stubbornness. You can, and will do it, Kathryn.

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