Beating Back the Brambles

I feel as though I’ve been terribly remiss in posting new thoughts of late. But it’s been a strange-to-document kind of year. Last year about this time, I was flying through the rough draft of The Mistress of Frosthaven, half-blind, half-mad, and rounding up on the finale by the end of June. It was exhilarating and exhausting, but it was done. I wrote and submitted a new short story in August, but it’s a very specific story, and I’m not yet sure whether it’s got a home out there in the wilds, or if it’s destined to live in a drawer for a while. I came back to the rough draft of tMoF in October/November, and started messing around with a summary draft of what the edited/second draft should look like. After a few false starts, I got the framework in place, and set it aside to let it cool while I edited and rewrote two older short fiction pieces I’d been meaning to get out. I’ve managed to keep those two in orbit out in the wilds, which has helped get me back into the swing of things, but the edit is dragging. I shouldn’t be surprised: this is my first attempt at a serious edit of a novel, and honestly, I have no. idea. what. I’m. doing. There’s the inclination to cut and burn EVERYTHING and start over from scratch. There’s the instinct to gently coddle it and change as little as possible for fear of losing “that spark.” I think I’ve finally gotten to a middle-ground, focusing less on changing the major bones (save a few that need excising and/or shin-lengthening á la Gattaca) and more on building out what I’ve already got down.

There’s still a lot of work to do. I’m still not 100% sure when I’ll actually be confident enough to start the second draft (or at least, confident that I’m not diving in head-first as clueless as I did on Draft 1–I ought to know a little more about the world/characters/plots/etc. by now). I’m hoping I can get all the essential holes thought through by the end of May enough that I can wheel into Draft Two – The Prose Edition in June.

But like with all longer projects, it seems, I’m hitting that productivity panic point. I like writing new words. Not producing new fiction is making me a little eye-twitchy, like I’m just sitting on my hands, even though I’m thinking a ton about the book. March and April were crapshoot months. My daily schedule fell apart (first due to seemingly perpetual illness, in myself, or Bug, which means nobody’s getting any sleep; the second due to having gotten out of the habit and procrastinating with a dozen other urgent needs-attention things that popped up unexpectedly, like away-from-home dog-sitting, planning a surprise b-day party on short notice, and getting sick. Again.), and this is the first week where I’ve started trying to get back on the horse. It’s not that I’m starting off where I left off in February, I’ve actually done lots of thinking since then, and ideas have simplified and strengthened, but thinking is such an ephemeral part of writing. You can’t clock it all that well. It’s hard to gauge whether you’re “on schedule” (whatever that means). There’s no easy metric to measure (“Well, I popped and ate six thought-bubbles today, so all in all, a good day’s work!”), it’s tough to spend so much time chasing dead-ends, and so much of it feels like wasting time, even though I know–so much, particularly after that first draft–how important the thinking is. I need to spend time thinking. I just wish there were some easy way to show myself that I’m not just putzing around, using “thinking” as an excuse not to get words down.

But I’ve also learned, in the past couple of years, that while I can bounce between projects that are separated by chunks of time (a month focusing on X, the next month on Y, etc.), I can’t mix them up together during a week. It’s too much to keep in my head at this point, even though I’m finally getting to that parenting phase where thinking about fiction is something I can do again even during the day. I’m less exhausted now, but that’s partly because I realize how much I have to compartmentalize each project. There are so many things I want to do and work on, and getting mired in the thick, tough, uncertain bog of thinking about this book is making me slightly mad, all the more because I know I have to do it. I must do it. I literally cannot skip this step.

But today, for the first time, I started to feel the engines revving again. Up until now, despite mapping out a ton of backstory and character traits and shifting some major characters around, it’s felt like shoveling snow, in the Dance, Dance, Dance kind of way: you move some over there, it snows more, you need to move more, continue until dead. But after this morning’s bit of work (I get about an hour a day, at the moment), I finally started feeling the zeal again. Just a bit. Not enough to plunge into prose over, but enough to feel like maybe, maybe the basic thinking is coming to an end and the story will be ready to go again. Round two. It’s not ready yet, but it’s giving me hints that it’s getting closer. Maybe, maybe, chipping away at it this month will get me where I need to be to climb into the story, shut the door, rev the engine, and floor it in June.

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