Let’s say I’m writing a novel. Heck, let’s say I’m rewriting it. And let’s say this process is taking me an ungodly long time. How long? Let’s not get bogged down in details. This is all theoretical, anyway. I’m hypothesizing for a friend.
Why, fellow unpublished novelist, might this rewrite be taking so long? There are so many reasons: kids, home, work, aging parents, democracy, volunteering in your community, etc. If you want to publish, yes, you need commitment. But you also can’t ignore the rest of your world. Throw in a few life crises, and the process of writing a novel can start to feel like it contains more chapters than the novel itself. Raising a kid? That only takes eighteen years. But a novel is forever.
So what do you do when you feel like every writer you know has finished her seven-book series while you’re still struggling with your debut (or maybe your second or third book)? First, stop beating yourself up. It’s okay. Second, recognize that this abundance of time is an opportunity, especially if you’re unpublished. If you don’t have an agent and publisher tapping their fingers on their desks, expecting you to meet a contractual deadline, then use this time to work on your craft and get that novel right. If all goes well, you may not have this kind of time in the future.
Third, be prepared. If you’re traveling the long road to finishing a book, you may run into a specific set of problems, one or more of which undoubtedly involve you questioning your own sanity. Let’s examine some of these potential anti-speed traps, and see if there’s anything we can do about them.
The gnawing plot problem
You’ve come to a tricky plot point in the middle of your manuscript, and the problem is exacerbated because you can’t give it your undivided attention. Here’s the trap: you’ll solve this problem. Then you’ll solve it again. And again. In fact, you’ll come up with so many solutions to this problem and have so much time to consider each one while you’re tending to your other obligations that you’ll decide each solution seems too contrived to be usable. If it’s not contrived, it’s too obvious, as evidenced by the fact that you thought of it. This is true even if in your literary historical novel set during the American Revolution, it occurs to you that aliens from the Vega star system could thwart the British before they capture the young Patriot by guiding said Patriot to the cache of laser-powered muskets. Duh. Anyone would see that coming.
The solution? Realize it’s possible your perspective has become skewed over time. Yes, you’ve thrown out at least fifty possible plot points. But hopefully you kept a few of the better ones in a “scraps” file somewhere, because chances are at least one of them contained a nugget of something good. [Read more…]