Lately, I’ve been wondering why I write novels. Why do I put up with the struggle — the months of striving to get the story right, the realization that it’s not, the months spent to improve it, the worry that publishers will reject it — or that readers won’t ever hear of it?
Is it ego that propels me? Dreams of a solvent bank account? Mental illness?
You see, I’ve spent the last week drinking scotch, eating Smarties candy rolls, neglecting my family and pulling all-nighters . . . all to finish the first edit of the second draft of the first draft of my new manuscript.
This activity has consumed me. Days have passed. I’ve forgone exercise, declined the offer to test for my red belt in Tae Kwon Do, and stopped reading for pleasure.
Usually, I extol the joys of writing, the wonders of editing.
I love being DONE.
Never before have I grappled so much with a story — and I’ve written four other manuscripts. Still, I remain galaxies from satisfied with this one. However, after one of the most grueling pushes in my life, I’m a little less horrified.
1. It all began a year ago when I wanted to start my new series. I had at least five great ideas for protagonists. Which one did I want to get to know better, to spend weekends with?
2. Procrastination pointed me to another Sasha Solomon book. First, it was going to be set in Placitas, New Mexico. Then, I decided to go to the town of Socorro. Then, I decided to give Sasha a project that took her throughout Socorro County.
3. But wait! I wanted to start my new series. Repeat # 1.
4. Repeat # 2.
After too much wasted time, I started THE SOCORRO BLAST. When it inched like a glacier, I had doubts. Had THE BELEN HITCH used me up? Why didn’t editors at the big houses want Sasha? What the heck l was I doing trying to be an author, anyway?
Repeat # 1.
Then, Iris Martin, the winner in that contest, insisted on telling her story in first person, present-tense. Nope. I wasn’t going to get trapped writing an entire book that way.
Go to # 2.
You get the idea.
In November, I asked a group of cyberfriends to be my cheerleaders. With their encouragement, I sat down and wrote the first SOCORRO manuscript in a single month. 300 + pages. Good, right?
The only problem was it was so incoherent – that I couldn’t edit it. Believe me, I tried.
Go to # 1.
If all this back-and-forthing is getting tiresome, imagine what it was like to live it.
In March, I wrote a completely new draft of SOCORRO. The only elements that survived from the first attempt were a couple of names and the locale.
Also in March, I learned about the Agatha Award nomination for THE BELEN HITCH and, rather than soar with the praise, I plummeted with insecurity.
My tactful agent gently asked how the new manuscript was coming. I told him I’d have it to him by April 1. April 5. April 6. Today, April 10.
Last Friday, I called my agent, hoping to whine. Lucky for both of us, he wasn’t in the office.
So, I decided to suck it up and be an adult, to be a professional. I stopped playing head games with myself. Sure, the plotting hadn’t come together. The words stuck to the page and oozed a weird yellowish muck. Sasha’s voice couldn’t be heard through my bludgeoning.
It didn’t matter; it was time to take responsibility for my job. That meant working from 5:30 am to 3 am that day. It meant the same schedule on Saturday, and working until 5 am this morning.
I did it.
For this round.
Now, I can let the manuscript sit, or show it to my agent to get his sane and experienced advice. It’s headed in the right direction.
My new manuscript isn’t good yet, but it’s getting closer.
Most of the novelists I know write because they have to. It’s in their blood.
For me, it’s a question of scotch and Smarties – caustic and sweet. I’ve learned an important lesson with this newest manuscript: no matter how difficult the process, I can’t stop.
—– I’ll see you next week when I’ve had a little sleep.