Our guest today is Virginia Franken. Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Virginia now lives in suburban Los Angeles with two kids, a dog, an overweight goldfish, and one bearded dude, in a house that’s just a little too small to fit everyone in comfortably. She gets most of her writing done when she should be sleeping. Life After Coffee is her first novel.
After getting into a wrestling match with my latest draft and then getting my butt kicked, I spent way too long trapped inside my own head, wondering where I’d gone wrong. So I thought I’d do what I tend to do with all the issues that make me crazy and send me screaming to my keyboard: I wrote it out.
Turn Off the Static So You Can Hear the Tiny Whisper
Last week I hit “delete” on the first 30,000 words of my second novel. A novel that my agent is eagerly waiting for. Trashed. All of it. Ok, I didn’t actually click “move to trash,” but I certainly firmly slid the thing into the “not currently working on,” folder. Same thing. Those dear little 30,000 or so words are not going to become a book.
This is not my first heartless cull. You could go as far as to say that trashing thousands of words is part of my writing methodology. However, since I wrote my first book I’ve obtained one more kid, a longer commute, more responsibility at my day job and I’m starting to realize: If I’m going to continue to do this, I have to be more efficient. Time is precious. My words are precious. My agent is patiently waiting.
So where did I go wrong? And more importantly, how can I—and you—learn from my mistakes.
After a bit of all-night insomnia and a few mopey days off from writing, I figured out there was one major reason why my draft chocked. I realized I was trying to write someone else’s story. The story of a collection of people whose lives had caught my attention for a brief moment. And indeed, they were enthralling in that moment. But it was just a passing moment. Not a whole novel. There was a clueless pig farmer, a woman who ran away from the world to hide in a river house in rural California, baby boomer parents behaving very badly, a cursed hot spring. All good stuff. But ultimately it wasn’t enough. It’s definitely ok to write about what you don’t yet know about. But it’s not ok to write about what you really don’t want to know about! Or, as in my case, are truthfully not that interested in finding out about. I realized I wasn’t interested in learning about homesteading, pig rearing, crop rotation, epithermal veins. At one stage I realized I was going to have to go to check out an actual beehive—with REAL BEES in it—and I just kept stalling. I hate bees! In fact, I’m a bonafide apiphobe. But the way I’d tangled my characters into odd plot knots meant that bee keeping was essential to the story. Yeah, you know you’ve got yourself in a convoluted plot line when you can’t possibly continue on to the next chapter without specifically talking about honey production.
So why am I so much more confident about my next novel? One major difference: I’m writing from personal experience.