Two lovers, oh yeah. You wouldn’t think it from my bio photo, but I’m a major player. (I can’t say “playa” because I’m only allowed to use the Suburban Dictionary.) Two lovers, dig, and—with apologies to Mary Wells—I ain’t ashamed. But dang if I’m not flummoxed, because even sharing my keyboard between the two is daunting.
What I’d like to discuss is a surfeit of joy: working on two novels at once. (Note: the term “joy” in this instance is synonymous with “confounding,” “nettlesome” and “vexatious.”) My first lover is my old novel, the discussion of which I used to suffocate you in a blizzard of words at my last WU picnic. But as the bad penny always comes back, I have to hit you here with all two cents’ worth.
I returned from the writer’s conference where I workshopped the first 20 pages of the book, laden with 10 fellow workshopper’s comments, and those of two of the group leaders, both fine novelists. (Need I point out that 10 + 2 = 12? Obviously a jury.) Verdict: guilty of not making clear, early enough, what’s at stake for the lead characters, two of whom were introduced in alternating chapters, where each held the POV.
Sputtering Plot Flames, Rekindled
But, but, I was being subtle, I was stacking the kindling to the plot flames that would light character fireplaces, I was balancing setting, conflict, and hinted intrigue so that the gingerbread scents would pull the reader’s nose further in.[pullquote]But, but, I was being subtle, I was stacking the kindling for the plot flames that would light character fireplaces, I was balancing setting, conflict and hinted intrigue so that the gingerbread scents would pull the reader’s nose further in.[/pullquote]
But then I read the commented chapters again—yep, not enough exposure of the character’s sinews, so readers might get a clue where they stretch or where they snap.
In my last WU screed, I suggested I might abandon this novel, because after all, I’ve been working on another, and it’s young, it’s fresh, it’s exciting! It can’t accuse me of not paying attention or not taking out the trash like this older one could. Those old novels know you so well, roll their eyes at your rhetorical tricks, know your advances might just lead to a sentence or two shifted rather than delivering a long, loving tumble through sweaty paragraphs.
But, I couldn’t abandon the old girl—we have a deep connection. I stared at the first two chapters for three hours, picking up the pages, reading them over (and over), and not typing a letter. After paddling in word-soup circles for a while, I found a much simpler way in, ways to make the characters in question shed some blood early on, and a way to push some bulky backstory deeper into the work. I took pains to avoid their stings being dully declarative in the story—“I hurt, I do,”—but using language more integral to the narrative moment, things that set an emotional sense in motion.
But that’s just the first two chapters—there’s 200+ pages to go. They too were all needful of the strike of the emotional tuning fork. What about my upcoming hot dates with my new novel? Would someone be spurned? Would one novel split the other’s skull? Or worse, my skull?
Dating Your Novel: Going Steady or Going Nowhere?
And the thing is, my fiction writing has always come in spasms anyway. I’ll gallivant through the fictional fields, panting and picking daisies. But then the after-lunch nap (damn that wine) might last for days, weeks, longer. As I said in the earlier WU piece, I’d been dating this novel for eight years.
And there are all those other things to be done. When I’m not busy figuring out how to fix climate change, I peddle nouns and verbs to various businesses. And there’s all that life stuff: I really am the one that vacuums around here.[pullquote]When I’m not busy figuring out how to fix climate change, I peddle nouns and verbs to various businesses. And there’s all that life stuff: I really am the one that vacuums around here.[/pullquote]
But I have an out: my new novel is a player too—it’s a collaboration. (Yeah, she’s on Tinder.) This novel is the furthering of a long short story written with a writer pal of mine—that bit of hale-fellow-well-met, let’s clap keyboards is all explained here.
So, I’m cheating in a different way on the new novel: My collaborator Rick takes her into his capable arms for stretches, leaving me for dalliances with the old. Our collaboration works with one of us penning a couple of scenes, then sending the other our latest work. We sketch out possible new scenes and plot points in between, and also at the time of new material delivery.
Two Works, Less Vitality?
You might think it could drain one novel of its vitality by working on another. Possibly, but I haven’t felt that yet. (Though the new novel is first-draft new enough that we can be sloppy with some issues, and I haven’t really driven deep into no-man’s land again on the old, so maybe I can’t clearly know if my attention can be successfully divided, giving equal heart to all.) I do know the characters in both of the works, and feel their pulses. None are on life support, none are slipping away.
For some writers, it’s not unusual at all to be working on two books at once. And many writers who write in series do deep outlining for upcoming works that’s very close to working on two (even three) books simultaneously. With one of mine being a collaboration, it’s only quasi-simultaneously, so there’s less pressure.
But this dual dating thing is tough: I just hope I’m able to afford the florist bills.
The first thing I want to know is, what if it turns out that Donald Trump is really Chris Rock in a costume having some fun with us? You heard it here first. So, have you ever worked on two novels at once? More than two? Was it a problem (and why) or a pleasure, or a bit of both?
There’s a good chance I won’t be able to comment right away: When this posts, I’ll be on a media trip in Myanmar, of all places, and their Internet is spotty at best. And these trips can be long days and nights of activities, so I might be bleary Bentley when I do check in, but please do let me know what you think.
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