Thursday, November 26, 2015

I’m Working on the Worst Book I’ve Ever Written

You know the right answer to “Does this make my butt look fat?”

No. No, you don’t because there isn’t one.

But this isn’t a case of me asking for praise or to be lied to. I’m certainly not going to show you what I’m working on, and like hell I’ll put my comment section back on and let everyone know how unopinionated all the other people are about me.

I bring this up because I haven’t had this experience in a long time, and yet it is a pretty common one.

I remember back when I was writing my first few manuscripts having that moment of, “Wow. This is so bad,” about midway through. My response was that I would just make the second half better and go back and fix the first. I highly recommend this reaction because finishing a book is a faster way to improve your writing than writing a whole slew of beginnings. Plus, it’s more encouraging. There’s something about seeing a completed manuscript in front of you, even if it’s a sloppy first draft.

And, in many cases, you’re going to be somewhat biased against your own work. Partially because there’s a difference between how you see something while the middle of making it and first impressions. Also because any self-loathing, doubt, fear, and mostly knowing the shallow or stupid reasons you made a decision can dilute the “genius” of it to someone who is blissfully unaware. It’s likely that when you hate your own work, you will feel differently when you actually read it.

I mean, that’s not the case now, this work currently is pretty God-damn banal.

There’s several reasons for this.

I’ve talked about my writer’s constipation in the last few months. My production rate has gone steadily down since I graduated high school, though I did manage to get some manuscripts and publications under my belt in the last few years of and following college. This last year, however it’s gone down to pretty much nothing at all, though I do suppose I have been good about blogging.

When my 26th birthday hit last October, I was unhappy, and I knew a lot of that had to do with my writing life. I decided that I would return to my old ways, keep my promises to myself, and start writing five pages everyday again. I have done very well, actually, for the most part—although I padded some of my numbers with blog pages—and am pretty content with myself. I was hoping to get a manuscript that is about 70,000 words long finally finished before I hit National Novel Writing Month, but that didn’t happen. My mind was very much on that piece, and I was banking that I would come up with a new idea for November before thinking one over.

I did, actually, but it was the day of. While listening to The Lovely Bones (skip this paragraph to avoid spoilers) on tape as the boyfriend and I drove across country, I thought back to a writer who my friend had met who had abandoned his wife and kids to tour across the country and sell his books. Meanwhile, the mother in the novel had left her living children after the death of one in hopes to go back to school and restart her life. She is gone for several years before returning home.

The real life writer who had abandoned his family confused, enraged, and enthralled me. I have long wanted to go across America selling my books, and I wondered what it would be like if I had settled down with kids and a husband. I couldn’t imagine leaving my family behind, and I didn’t really understand why the writer had felt it was necessary. I believe the story he told my friend was not the whole of it, and while we read the first chapters of his “fictional autobiography” (whatever that means), it became readily apparent that he was a depressed individual, and what he told my companion about loving his wife and kids was about his regret, obviously having thought that leaving it all behind and starting over would make him happy. Which, as of yet, it wasn’t working.

The premise of a mother abandoning her family, a parallel universe where I had focused on a relationship and marriage, inspired me, and the first several thousand words were easy to write. For the first time I used my own experiences and perceptions and opinions to create this woman, though I have no husband or kids and would never leave my child to run off and “find myself.” I believe that I—and the real-life writer—could negotiate a business trip for a few months and then return. But that wasn’t really the point.

But then I needed a plot. Moreover, writing about real life modern day actually bores me, and I know very well that whenever I try to create my America, the book ends up abandoned on the shelf. I decided to create magic inside the world. This normally would be a good idea, however, it wasn’t something that came natural.

Usually the magical elements tend to become clear in scenes, visualized. Not in this case.

I was inspired by Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, or rather his description on why he liked to write like that. Unlike me, Gaiman is a true urban fantasy writer—not to be confused with urban fiction writer—believing that magic is best when it is slightly infused with our reality. I have also been yearning to create a setting as rich and whimsical, yet terrifying and dark as Harry Potter. This led me to think very critically while I didn’t have time to sit back and mull it over. I needed to come up with decisions fast, and instead I’ve pulled my usual stunt of glossing over things so I didn’t have to answer them. I had no natural inspiration and my mechanical ones required a lot more time to be developed.

Normally, this isn’t that big of a deal because I understand character or plot or theme or setting or something well enough that the story can still be propelled forward by at least one of those strings and it’s not so hard to flush the others out later. While my main characters of Ronny and Eliza are interesting and with merit, Eliza’s goals (supernaturally based) aren’t well defined for me—or even for her for that matter. Ronny’s writing is just a peripheral motivator, a flavoring. It’s not really what the story is about or what propels her. I’m learning more about her as I go, but I’ve yet to find a good reason for her to do what she’s done or the parallel back to the supernatural part.

Her husband, Chris, has come out decently enough, but his storyline is limited. He needs to move on while she’s gone, making her redemption harder, yet I’m not sure how to give him an interesting conflict.

Then there’s this ex-boyfriend of Ronny’s who I’m regretting putting in every minute. In attempts to make his appearance less coincidental, it’s coming off as more and more contrived. Plus, I don’t particularly like him. However, to cut his character it’ll mean a complete rewrite, and because I’m behind on my Writing Month quota, I am more inclined to keep the continuity of his existence and then choose to change it all together later. This is for various reasons that I won’t go into, but suffice to say, he’s a cardboard idiot. I feel like he might be a reflection on how I see the men who criticize me whenever I go to a bar and then are shocked I hate them. They’re not multidimensional either.

For whatever reason, whether it be that I’m writing in a real setting, that I haven’t gestated the idea longer, that I don’t have the time to go back and make huge changes, that my character is very much based on a somewhat parallel version of me, or that the critiques of the manuscript I’m editing are coming quickly to light again in this one, but this piece is not turning out. I’ve written quickly before, I’ve not planned before, so what is it that is so mediocre about the decisions I’m making now?

Yet I am not discouraged. I enjoy editing once I understand the problems in the work, and there is something exciting to me about having to outline, replot, and rewrite a complete storyline, especially one that I’m not too invested in. I have room to play and do whatever I want to it. The chance of experimentation is fun, and somewhat novel to me. No heartache over my “darlings” in this piece because there’s not a lot to it.

And if it goes abandoned in the draw, so what? At least it’s help me get back into the habit again.

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