Or, more precisely, the book. My current writing project is a reboot of the first young adult novel I ever wrote, way back in 2007. It’s a fun premise with a terrific setting and characters I love, in short, a great story. I was simply telling it wrong. So when it came time to choose between stripping it down to the foundation and starting from square one or shelving it forever, I decided to take the plunge.
This is the sound of a manuscript blowing up… and maybe taking part of my brain with it.
See, I’m a fairly extreme fogwalker. I rarely know where a story is headed when I begin, and I usually only have a vague sense of the characters, trusting them to reveal themselves more deeply along the path. In this case, I know the overall arc and the characters – though a few of them are already surprising me in the best ways possible. I had certain scenes/moments/revelations/pieces of dialogue I wanted to retain, but when I started trying to work backwards from them, I ran myself right into a rut.
Two brand new chapters in and BOOM. I blew it up again. After discussing the project with my agent (and hearing her say she loves the premise) I determined two things: I had to back up and start the story arc a little earlier than I was, and I had to completely divorce myself from the original version. This, as it turns out, is easier said than done. Because even when you put the paper copy in the cabinet and dump the electronic file into a separate folder on your hard drive, you still know How Things Went Before. Herein lies the pitfall, at least for me, since one of the biggest problems with the first incarnation of this story was pacing, and pacing is all about how and when things happen.
This meant I was in for some major mental wrestling over what I thought should happen and what actually wanted to happen. It was an uncomfortable place to sit and made for some slow writing, until the moment of truth which occurred somewhere around 2 a.m. last Tuesday. What if, I thought, I let go of What Comes Next?
When I’m writing a completely new story, it’s all about the journey, the discovery, and I rarely know what’s going to unfold in the next chapter. I’m happy enough to get the first sentence, which tips me off to the who and where, but the what and how are the treasures, waiting to be unburied in a good day’s work. Maybe there’s room for all those pieces I want to keep, but they have to be reframed in a natural way, have to fit flawlessly into the story, not be forced into place. And if there isn’t room for them? Oh, well. I’ve cut out all but two POVs and half of the secondary characters (by now, I’m sure you can guess what the other major flaw of the original version was), so what’s a chunk of dialogue or a clever twist here and there?
It felt right, this realization. And it freed me to follow my natural writing process, one that does not involve an outline, even in the form of a preexisting manuscript. Now the words are flowing like a river, and me? I’m enjoying the ride.