Sometimes you just have to go with what you have.
Advice I’ve received in the last week: ‘your peripheral characters need justification to exist’ and ‘your manuscript is pretty much ready to go; it’s never going to be perfect so you may as well submit it now’. Paraphrased slightly, but that’s more than the gist of it. Now I’m trying to disentangle my own opinions from these external ones, to work out where my agenda ends and those of other people begin, and … well, it’s interesting.
See, the first bit of advice/feedback was about my peripheral characters. Before hearing that, I’d been so enamoured with those characters that I’d considered giving them their own stand-alone stories. In a sense these two things are actually entirely complimentary; the fact that I was considering giving these characters their own story, separate to my current WIP, does seem to fit rather well with the idea that their current role in said WIP feels a bit off. But at the time I was a bit like: ‘oh, okay, I hadn’t thought about it that way, I guess I need to change my plans of expanding their roles and actually cut them back, because it sounds like they’re a distraction more than a contribution’. Again, paraphrasing.
The second bit of advice/feedback, wherein it was suggested that Tallulah is almost ready to roll out to agents/publishers as is, came after a day spent working on that assumption, and trying to identify how they fit into the story in its current state, thinking of the state I want the story to be in, as well as trying to see it in its simplest, most straightforward form in terms of plot/story, and determining how well they fit. As it turned out, I ended up feeling that their role – these two characters in particular who I kind of see as a unit – was far too distracting, but actually about the right size for what I wanted the focus of the story to be.
And then the second bit of advice/feedback came in, and there was a definite click as everything kind of slotted into place. I’d wanted to expand the roles of these side-characters, but had stopped thinking about the main character and her role, and then got feedback about how distracting those characters were. I’d then found that, while the role of those characters was not clear enough to feel like solid storytelling, it was actually about the right ‘size’, which meant that the only real change I had to make was one of emphasis rather than page-time, and then got feedback that my manuscript was in a state where it could be ready to show to the world.
It all came together very synchronously and serendipitously, and I couldn’t help but stop and consider this. The patterns forming, the synergy between my own process of trying to work things out and these two pieces of feedback I’d gotten, the way they filled in the gaps for one another. I, being an eternal skeptic, also spent time worrying that if I’d heard different feedback I would have ended up going in an entirely different direction, especially given how impressionable I’d found myself to be only a week or so ago, just from what random articles I’d read online about writing. But now I’m starting to think that this is not so much skepticism as it is a new and distracting manifestation of my procrastination. Skepticism is only useful if it’s … uh … useful. Perhaps I would have come to a different conclusion if I’d been exposed to different advice; but I wasn’t, and who’s to say that it would have been a better direction? Perhaps I am just imagining the synergy between what I was already focused on and these two units of advice/feedback and this is all just confirmation bias, but even if it’s not the only thing that could fit, it is a thing that does fit. And as far as I can see, it fits pretty well.
It does raise an issue, though, which is that I not only need to be mindful of what I’m exposed to in terms of ideas and opinions and stuff when it comes to my process, but also to actually work towards actively creating a generative writing ecosystem, where I have a variety of types of feedback, so that I can at least have the illusion of having been exposed to a broad spectrum of influences and don’t feel like I’m being shepherded down one path.
Though then again, it is just two people, and I doubt they were working in concert to deliberately try and manipulate me and my writing, so my own complicity is totally a factor, in fact the biggest factor. I am the one driving this carriage, no matter who’s giving me directions.
And I am very wary of getting stagnant on this project again; I just started to get back into it a day or two ago, and to much more deliberation is not going to help. There are some things I need to look into, things I need to clarify, but I actually feel pretty clear in terms of what, and why. Now it’s just a matter of how.
I mean yes, I’m worried that it won’t be ‘right’, but that’s part of the problem, part of why this stagnation has been a problem – the question of ‘what if’. Thankfully what I’ve got is something that I’m very happy with, at its core at the very least, and so while it ‘could’ be anything, I’m happy enough with what it is that I always come back to it in the end, rather than dwelling on what it isn’t – I end up stagnating because I can’t judge perfection, yet follow the thoughts that insist I do just that. But I can judge ‘good’. My stories will never be perfect – and there was a time not too long ago when I was actually excited about that, excited to just make it good, and because I know what I think is good pretty much instantly, excited to do it fast as well. It feels like I’m getting back to that now.
I do need to work out some little niggling issues, but again, that’s more of a change in emphasis in terms of what happens in the story, rather than the actual events themselves. Some streamlining, changing in tone, all kinds of executive decisions like that. But for the most part, yeah, this story is actually feeling ready to go.
To the second draft anyway. Not to publishing. The main decisions I actually feel I have to make are more in terms of my level of comfort with the idea of expanding this story into a series, or at least giving it a sequel/prequel, because there is so much more stuff that I want to explore. Or how comfortable I am with the idea of taking those peripheral characters and giving them their own spinoff if I do really want to give them some more time in the spotlight.
Or, perhaps, how comfortable I am just thinking about how nice it would be if they had their own story, or a bigger role, because at the end of the day I don’t care about that as much as I care about Tallulah’s story. That’s been perhaps the most important thing I’ve learnt about this story – I really do care about it. I’m used to going on tangents and distracting myself, but to come back to the same central idea again and again is really validating.
It feels like my options are narrowing, the options I like at least, and this is what I’ve been waiting for, without realising it. It’s becoming more and more obvious what this story needs to have happen for it, what I need to do. And that gives me hope. It feels like this is worth doing, and that everything is coming together to kick off draft 2.
It’s been a long time coming. I think I’m ready.