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Novel vs. Baby

Oh curse you babby! For you have win!

Been obvious for a while now that the writerly push was not going to achieve an End-state before babby day, even if babby decides to be well late. So the contest is hereby over. I declare loss!

Reasons for loss are twofold:
* Got really, really busy with stuff. It threw me out of my groove and took over my life, and even token continuation of novel was not possible during. Sad to say, but that is life.
* Novel got harder than I expected.

I’m gonna talk about that second one a little. I’m conscious of writing this during Novel Writing Month, when lotsa people are pushing through to write a text in one short month. This is the opposite of that. There, the goal is to hit wordcount – to just! keep! writing! until you get where you need to go. Everyone knows that when you come out the other side of NaNoWriMo, you are faced with the task of editing and shaping what you created into something you can stand behind. But by creating something to work with, you have already overcome the greatest obstacle.

Working on Day One at first felt a bit like that. I had a clear vision of where I was going and how to get there. I launched into the project at speed and raced through the first major act without pause, confident in my direction and the strength of the core idea.

Then I hit something unexpected. The narrative in front of me, which had previously been a straight, clean road, suddenly became a huge and complex interchange with different routes racing off in dozens of new directions. To change metaphors: it was like a firework – one trail going up, then a sudden explosion into dozens of new lines.

Now, I tried to pick one and get on with it, because that’s how you get things done; I’ve done it in the past. But this time I realized quickly that the problem was deeper than that. I knew my start and I knew my ending and I knew the arc of my middle, but it all got tricky when I tried to line them up and match them to the world I’d set up and the concerns I set in motion.

It all got complex. You can see it in the journal – an unbroken stream of prose suddenly starts jumping back and forth with scenes being written increasingly out of sequence until there were arrows everywhere dragging this bit into connection with that bit. Scenes lost context, like images flashing on a screen. And then finally the writing stalled out completely to be replaced by notes to myself, charts and character notes, explorations of the various options ahead. That’s what I’ve been working on for a while now, sorting stuff through in my head now rather that writing a novel and seeing what doesn’t work. I’ve even dragged out the Dramatica engine for the first time in half a decade to see what it has to say. (Answer: useful stuff.)

It’s perhaps a sign that my craft is getting better – that I can see problems coming a mile away. But I’m also keenly aware that I’m putting a lot of work into this that isn’t helping progress towards The End. And that seems to matter – although it feels like work, it also doesn’t feel like progress.

Anyway. Babby is the winner. Novel will have to be patient to reach its full expression.

{ 10 } Comments

  1. sonal | November 16, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I win, I win, I win! Prize? 🙂

    I know what you mean by “it gets harder” – how are you planning your way through the novel?

    I’ve only just managed to figure out how to do the card system for plotting which helps me avoid the fireworks effect by make the route from beginning to end clear and tangible (having the cards in my hand ready to shuffle – are you familiar with it? I can help on that if you need). Also, getting into the habit of outlining helps avoid surprises that will derail your plot.

  2. Jenni | November 16, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I like the way that in this blog entry you have attempted to answer that eternal question: How is novvel formed?

  3. Jet Simian | November 16, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Speaking as another book-er who had to retire one for babby, you’ve done the right thing (not that you were asking!) Your head’s not going to be any clearer once miniMorgue arrives, but boy will it be more focussed 🙂

  4. Jon | November 16, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Stink buzz bro. I sort of know the feeling.

  5. The Alligator | November 16, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    writ babby book then, eh?

  6. Debbie | November 17, 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Sounds like you’ve thought out this so well that it doesn’t seem like a defeat (or babby victory) so much as the best (although hard) decision for you and the novel at this point in life. The opening of Day One took a firm hold of my imagination and has lingered with me since I read it, so I have every faith that you’ll be able to come straight back to the intriguing story when life allows you the headspace and time. 🙂

  7. morgue | November 17, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    sonal: your prize is me having a baby! Hurray! Planning of this novel is completely unlike planning for previous novels. I’m almost at the card system too – not quite worked that all out yet. Dramatica gave me some good stuff to work with there, particularly in linking up different aspects of the story (i.e. big stuff and personal stuff). Outlining was really productive on my fantasy novel, totally didn’t work on Ron the Body, and in reduced form has been helpful here – part of the stall is realizing the reduced outline didn’t do the job and needed to be overhauled. Plot plot plot.

    Jenni: how *is* nowel formed? yeah, I guess that’s what I’ve been thinking about obsessively these last weeks – the practical application, obviously, but also the bigger issues sitting underneath that…

    Jet: reassurance appreciated!

    Jon: yeah man. Bro-five. We persist anyway, because we must.

    Alligator: will write book on babby and photograph it.

    Debbie: Thanks. And yes, I’m determined to get this thing wound like a coiled spring so it will return strong after/during baby distraction!

  8. samm | November 17, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    “Then I hit something unexpected. The narrative in front of me, which had previously been a straight, clean road, suddenly became a huge and complex interchange with different routes racing off in dozens of new directions. To change metaphors: it was like a firework – one trail going up, then a sudden explosion into dozens of new lines.”

    Sounds like just about every text based blog post I have ever written 🙂

  9. Stevie Wonder | November 17, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Maybe your baby done made some other plans.

  10. pigphone | November 18, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    “And yes, I’m determined to get this thing wound like a coiled spring so it will return strong after/during baby distraction!”

    There is no after. Trust me, you will have to juggle…