A couple of years ago, I had an idea for a sweeping epic of a fantasy novel. Not, like, GRRM epic. By any stretch of the imagination. But still, I envisioned it being either somewhere around a 100,000 doorstopper or maybe 150,000 split into a two-part novel. I drafted a lot of scenes. I mapped out a bunch of plot lines. And I realized I was biting off a really ambitious project that might take a long time to get to the light of day, and I might not be happy with how it turned out when it was done.
So I decided to write a practice novel.
It turns out there is (almost) no such thing as a practice novel.
They are ALL practice novels.
This one – HARTHORN – is a lot more, shall we say, bite-sized. I think it will top out somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 words. There is only a single plot line which is fairly straightforward, and it’s geared towards a younger audience. (Not equating YA with simple. But for me, and within the context of fantasy novels, this is a less ambitious book.)
But you know that old saying? It might be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy? This is true, and applicable to novel writing, I am finding. And – full disclosure – something inside me hardens with rejection when people say “BUT (life, writing, raising children, xxx) IS HAAAARD,” as if acknowledging that I occasionally have moments of wanting to throw in the towel is a virus that will start out annoying and whiny like chicken pox but could eventually consume you like the end-of-the-world-apocalypse-zombie-flu. Because it should be easy, shouldn’t it? When everything clicks, and it flows, and you’re IN THE ZEN ZONE and YEAH MOTHERCHICKENPLUCKERS*!!! You know, the writing high.
*totally not the word I actually use.
At any rate, what I’m trying to say (badly), is that I have at the same time an immensely stubborn iron will to really just *not acknowledge* (and thereby exclude from my reality) anything that seems like it will get in the way of my goals, and at the same time, have dealt with a really crippling fear of failure, aka perfectionism.
So back to the practice novel. I finished a first draft in, um, I’m going to say late in 2013. Then started with the rewrites. I’m about 1/3 of the way through the rewrites, which I almost have to do inch by inch. I mean, I know theoretically I should keep going, but (see above), I get a gut feeling when things aren’t yet where I want them to be and I keep going over the same 1/3 of the book.
So where does this leave me? Pretty much with a panic attack. I think it’s where I want it, but is it good? Does it suck? HOW THE HELL DO I KNOW? I’VE BEEN STARING AT IT FOR BLOODY DAYS NOW.
At any rate, I decided to get some perspective, and it’s been the best thing I could have done. I have engaged the services of one Julie Hutchings (half of the Undead Duo, bonus), editor and writing-coach-slash-cheerleader-with-an-uzi extraordinaire. You may be comfortable finding other types of feedback for your work. But if you’re stuck like I was, find someone who’s opinion you trust, and DO IT.
Holy Jesus @ChristianFreyCA can write fantasy.
— Julie Hurtsthings (@HutchingsJulie) October 5, 2014
So, with much preamble and without further ado, here are five things I’ve learned so far on my practice novel:
1. That FEELING? The one that twinges in your little writer gut and says either YES I HAVE FOUND WHAT’S HONEST HERE, or NO, YOU ARE TOTALLY SKATING ON PLOT AND FALLING BACK ON CLICHÉS AND TRYING TO SQUIRM OUT OF THINGS, so, REWRITE. This is still, and always, the prime thing that I need to strive for.
2. It’s a lot less painful to rip out and re-arrange scenes than I imagined it would be.
3. It’s harder to fill in the little connecting bits around the edges after ripping out and re-arranging said scenes than I thought it would be.
4. You are going to lose a little something in the voice that the first draft had, but it’s OK. Hold the voice in your heart and it will shine on even as the novel deepens and grows away from you and takes on a life of its own. The voice will still be there, like five-year-old you watching thirty-five-year-old you watching kids play.
5. There is no such thing as a practice novel.
Aaaand to make it an even half dozen…
6. I will never, ever, ever be a fast writer. GRRM and I have that in common.