A productive week (at last)
This past month I’ve resumed work on the spec novel I’ve been struggling with on and off for a few years now — the one where I had to stop and rethink pretty much the whole second half of the book because the story had gone off the rails. I’ve had the new outline ready to go for some time (although I had some new ideas that I just recently added to it), but other projects and stuff kept me from focusing on it until recently. However, it’s been rough going. Revising the first half(ish?) wasn’t too hard, since I just needed to weave some new ideas and lines into the material I already had. But then I got to the part where I had to start making some major changes. And not just writing new scenes, but restructuring what I had, presenting a lot of the same ideas in a different context and order so that they served different purposes in some cases. Basically I had to take some pieces out of the old version, mix them with some new pieces, and put together the puzzle in a new way.
And I had a very hard time figuring out how to do that. I don’t know what it was, but I got really, really blocked and couldn’t think my way to a solution. I had all these tenuous thoughts floating around in my head, drifting in and out of my awareness, and there was nothing I could grab onto and go, “Yes, this is how to start the scene, and the rest falls into place like that and that.” My mind just couldn’t hold focus on it. It got so frustrating that I was starting to fear I’d lost my talent. (Because it wasn’t just this book; I’ve been equally stumped on a Hub story in progress for months.) Although in retrospect I think lack of sleep may have been a factor.
So I did what I’ve done in the past when I had trouble focusing: I took my laptop over to the campus library so I could work there without the distractions of the Internet, the TV, the kitchen, etc. — and just so I could get a change of scenery to stimulate the little gray cells. Though it helped a lot that the night before, I’d finally thought of a hook to get me into the first reworked scene. I reminded myself — and it shows how far off my game I was that I forgot about this — that the key was to find a character angle, a way to give an emotional hook and viewpoint to the scene so it wasn’t just exposition. Once I understood what the scene would be about on a character level, I was able to work it out. And once I had that starting point, plus the quiet of the library, I was able to succeed at reassembling that chapter in its new form.
And in the couple of days since then, I’ve been continuing to make steady progress, a mix of writing new scenes and plugging in or revising old scenes that still fit. Maybe I’m cheating a bit; there are some important story revelations that my revised outline had suggested approaching in a new way, but I fell back on just a slight variation on the old way so that I could reuse a lot of old text and make some headway. But I’m not sure I’ll keep it; this is an early draft, after all, and I’ll have plenty of opportunity to refine it. Right now I just want to get the basic story structure put together, and then I can go back and polish the details.
Anyway, I’m now to the point where I have to come up with some major new scenes, though there’s probably a certain amount of dialogue from the old scenes that I can fold into them. Basically, the core plotline of this part of the novel is much the same, but the key character who comes in at this point and sets the protagonists on the path toward the climax has been replaced with a different character who serves a different and more interesting agenda — besides being a member of a species already established in the novel so that she has closer ties to an existing character, and so I don’t have to add in two further species and all their respective culture and history and psychology and all that extraneous stuff that was cluttering up the novel before and sending me off course. That lets me tell this part of the story in a more focused and compact way. But since most of what comes next is new material with a new character, I have some thinking to do before I can get into it. I’ve been reviewing all the stuff I’ve written over the years about this character’s species, both background notes and an unsold story about them, to refresh my memory and help me get into the right mindset. Although there’s not as much of it as I’d like. (I wonder just how many good ideas I’ve had in years past that I’ve forgotten now because I didn’t keep detailed enough notes.)
So I need to write maybe two major scenes and one minor scene mostly from scratch now, and after (and between) those are a half-dozen more scenes from the old version that I can plug in with minor changes… and then I’ll get to the point where I stopped work on the old version and it’ll be all new material the rest of the way (basically the climactic action and the denouement). I’m finally making real progress, and I hope I can keep up the momentum.
Luckily, something that I was afraid would derail my burgeoning momentum didn’t happen. According to the production schedule my Star Trek editor sent me a while back, I was due to get second-pass galleys on DTI: Forgotten History sent to me for review, with less than a week before the deadline. So I was expecting to have to spend much of this week poring over galley pages again. But as it turned out, I simply got an e-mail from my editor containing a mere five proofreader queries which I was able to fire back answers to in less than an hour, and that was that.