The Way Back

Okay. It has not been that long since I last worked on Tallulah. It’s been, like, 2 years, tops. It has not been that long.

Also how the hell is it halfway through 2017 already that is just wrong.

I read through the second chapter; it’s one of the longer ones and it didn’t take too long to get through, even while making notes, and this bodes well, I feel. I did discover a whole bunch of stuff about this chapter since the last time I looked at it, and that tells me that taking time off was absolutely the right idea.

What I discovered was that I hate this stupid, pointless, confusing, reminding-me-of-how-half-assed-my-planning-was-for-this-book chapter – and it’s not even that it’s confusing. It’s not even that the characters’ motivations and opinions of each other are confusing, especially given what I know I wanted those motivations and opinions to be, because I apparently ended up writing them in order to convey the exact opposite of what that was.

It’s that it’s written so. Fucking. Badly.

And, like, I only wrote this chapter about …

Oh.

I wrote this almost 4 years ago.

Well, that explains a few things …

But it feels like it shouldn’t. It feels like I’ve been actively working on Tallulah for longer than this four-year gap suggests. This does not seem correct; I’m experiencing some serious fucking temporal dissonance here …

Because it feels like my writing style shouldn’t have changed this much during the past 4 years. I don’t feel like I’ve changed much during the past 4 years. But I suppose that isn’t true, now that I think about it.

I guess it’s just odd to think about the possibility that my writing style has changed while not ever actually thinking about it as even being a possibility. I can’t understand how this has happened, let alone how it happened without my even knowing about it.

And all of this leads to me thinking that, while taking a break from Tallulah to get some distance and perspective was a good idea, it might also have been a bad idea because now, looking it over with my 4-years-older eyes, I’m starting to think that Tallulah might actually be too old for me to write anymore. It might not be the book for me.

And yes, I am basing all of this on one chapter, because seriously you guys it is so fucking bad. It’s like an in-joke with myself; I introduce central characters as though the reader is supposed to already know who they are, probably because I went into writing that chapter after spending a whole year building up my own idea of them and how I want to protray them and how I want people to think about them … it’s just so gross. That’s the word I’m looking for here; the writing is yucky. It repulses me; it makes my skin crawl, like the meaty stench of a suppurating corpse. I hate the way this chapter is written. It’s just …

It’s just bad.

And on top of that: my fucking writing style has changed! Or my writing tastes, or writing instincts, or just whatever; I’ve changed, and it’s caught me by surprise. The only thing I feel certain about at the moment regarding this existential speed-bump is that I do feel the difference in my sensibilities. It still doesn’t make sense to me that there is a difference to begin with, but it’s definitely there. I never want to write that way again. I mean … man, was this all because I wrote an MA and a shitty YA werewolf novel in the intervening almost-4 years? Did it make that much of a difference? Or was it just taking a break letting me see what I’d actually written, which turned out differently from what I was trying to write at the time?

And what does this mean for other “old” projects? Most of the stories I think about writing on a regular basis are ideas I’ve come up with in the past 4 years; most of them I also haven’t actually written any of, or much at least. I wonder if I would feel the same sense of dissonance about these projects if I did have them written, if I were to read them over again – would I find that they were no longer stories that I could tell?

And what about future projects? What’s the shelf-life on my story ideas? How long will it be between the moments of conception and expiry on any given premise I come up with?

And I suppose I could draw the clear and obvious distinction between writing style and ideas; they’re not the same thing. But having said that, the voice of a story kind of is the story. You could tell the story of Harry Potter in the style of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Finnegan’s Wake, or The God of Small Things, and it would be an entirely different story. How a story is told tells you something about where that story is coming from, its angle, its agenda – you don’t have to agree with it or take it as written, but you can see where it’s trying to come from at the very least. Like with Tomorrow When the War Began, which is written like a children’s book but has the content of something much more mature; that tells you that it’s about childhood innocence being lost. Maybe. Maybe it’s actually telling you that the “YA voice” hadn’t been created at the point at which it was written, or that the writer just didn’t quite know how to craft an authentic-seeming adolescent voice, I know I wrote my review about that book like 2 years ago or something but I still feel flashes of annoyance for it like spontaneous allergic reactions that just come out of the blue and assail me … the point is that every idea comes with its own voice pre-packaged; you can’t separate an idea from the voice that it’s pitched in. It’s part of the idea.

But you can change it, right? Why am I asking rhetorical questions to myself? Maybe I just like panicking because I’m seriously screwy in the head and should really get around to making that therapist appointment I’ve been meaning to make for the past 5 months?

Yes, you can … which opens up some options that I have only been toying with up until this point. But that’s stuff for me to think about in private, I think. With regards to Tallulah specifically, though – it’s safe. I’m still going to write it. I know now that it doesn’t suit my voice, and perhaps during writing it I will find that it’s just not going to work out because the voice that suits the story and the voice that suits me almost 4 years later are incompatible, but up until I run into that brick wall I will indeed be running.

It feels a bit humbling, honestly, to have this realisation. It forces me to concede that I haven’t actually learnt everything there is to know about writing a novel; I never had any good reason to think that to begin with, and didn’t think that I thought it to begin with anyway, but upon discovering these things today it’s clear that I did. And that’s fine. Learning is always a good thing, and the more I can learn about this thing that I keep doing with my time, the better. I assume. I suppose I can only assume, because it also occurs to me that I might never actually learn everything there is to know about writing a book. Infinite learning. Which means, by my standards, infinite good!

And it’s also quite comforting, honestly, coming back to this project that I haven’t worked on for over 2 years and finding that I’m still connected to it in this way. Tallulah has taught me so much about myself as a writer, as a person in general, and even after this hiatus it seems I can just jump right back in and have things be exactly the same, like meeting an old friend after a long absence, one you know so well that your friendship is like muscle memory. And it reminds me that I don’t have this kind of relationship with any of my other books.

I’d like to change that.

I’m not sure of the full ramifications of what I’ve been realising over the course of the past 3 hours since finally finishing my notes on this despicably awfully-written chapter, but I want to find out.

Two Years Well Spent

Yesterday, I met up with a friend of mine, and did some writing.

Is it 2012 again? This is a strange feeling. I … like this. I feel good about this thing that happened that I did.

Weird.

Not just writing; Writing. And by Writing, I really do mean that capital “W”; this was Writing in the purest sense of the word, where I spent the majority of the time reading in order to make notes, said notes intended to be minimal but quickly swelling into miniature rants about whatever trivial detail I inevitably fixated on every few paragraphs, and then completely switched to making notes about a new project that I had come up with on the spur of the moment.

It was awesome.

And the best part?

The thing I was Writing was Tallulah.

It was important to me – and still is – it was serious work that I wanted to get done, and I just couldn’t help it. I had to be a Writer.

It was glorious.

And it feels great to get back into the zone, which is not only where all the things happen, but where all the things happen. Work will get done; work will be put off. Procrastination will happen, get overcome and happen again. Progress will build momentum, and to celebrate said momentum every single distraction that could possibly take place will, in fact, take place.

It’s a thing of beauty. I have said, over and over again, that I am no longer a Writer. But that was then, and this is now, and I realise that either of those extremes is, well, too extreme. I am and am not a Writer, because while that’s not all I am, it’s definitely something that I am, and it is an all-consuming something – until it’s not.

It’s like that one cardinal rule of writing, the one that I have held to from the start of this blog and continue to hold after so many of my beliefs, habits and attitudes have been challenged and changed over the past five years: you have to commit absolutely to your plan, and you have to reserve the right to completely change your mind about it at a moment’s notice. It’s both. There is no middle-ground; there is no synthesis. It’s both, at once, all the time. And that, I now realise, is how I feel about being a writer – I am until I’m not, and I’m not until I am.

Also I’m really kind of excited about this random new project; it’s more werewolves, but because I’ve been reading all those urban fantasy books, this is a shitty urban fantasy werewolf novel, as opposed to my shitty YA werewolf novel, which technically was also urban fantasy but whatever. What I’m most excited about was simply how easily and quickly ideas for books came to mind almost the second I came up with the premise; there was almost nothing to think about. The only issue that, honestly, I will never write it because I don’t have the energy to put into it – whereas I’m starting to backtrack on my stance on my shitty YA werewolf novel, which might actually become a Thing now. It would be started over from scratch, my main character would either be pretty heavily altered or just removed altogether because he’s an insufferable piece of shit, and … I dunno. I think I might actually shift it a little more towards what I’ve heard referred to as “mid-grade” books, like young adult books – Animorphs comes to mind most readily, and Tomorrow When the War Began. Even though I wasn’t the biggest advocate of that second book, I did like the dynamic of having a relatively large cast of core characters who all go through the Inciting Incident together, as opposed to what generally happens in heroic narratives where it’s just one orphan farmboy who receives the Call to Adventure. I’m feeling an ensemble, in other words, and I think this werewolf thing could work really well in that regard. Much better than this random urban fantasy thing that I like thinking about and planning but feel absolutely no passion to actually write.

Also – I do actually want to continue working on Tallulah, now that I’ve finally picked it up again after 2 years. I made not very much progress the other day, but it was a start, and a start is all I need to get going. I think the best way to go about this is to not think, at all, about what comes next. I’m just going to make a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, because that’s what I’m currently doing – and then, we’ll see.

Either way, I do think that I needed those 2 years for other things. Something wasn’t working, and now – well, something is. I don’t know what; I don’t think it’s the thing I was hoping would start working when I decided to take the break initially, but it’s enough. I’ll take it.

And I’ve also realised that, if I’m going to make mistakes and learn from them, I would actually rather do it with things that I care about, instead of “safe” options – Tallulah is something that I care about a lot, and part of the initial reasoning behind writing my shitty YA werewolf novel was the idea that I could use it as my “test” book, the one I’d actually shop around and go through the process of finding an agent, writing query letters, all that stuff. But it’s not the thing that I care about, and if everything does go well, it’s not the kind of work I want to be known for – not at first, anyway. I’m honestly not sure that Tallulah is that work either, but I do care more about it, and out of the two projects it is the one that I would most like to be published. I could fail with either of them, and it would be kind of heartbreaking either way. But if I succeeded, there’s only one of them that I really want to make that journey with. So I’m going to give that my best shot.

And the next time I decide to take a 2 year break from something I really care about, I at least know that I can have a lot of fun doing something that I don’t really care about in the interim, which I might end up caring about after all. I feel that’s a valuable lesson.

2 years well spent indeed.

5 Keys

Five key points. That’s what I’m focusing on with this next draft of Tallulah. At last I have a plan, a PLAN!

And so forth. I have been unsure of how to start this … well, I’m going to call it the second draft, following the first revision, based on how I feel about my own process and nothing more. In the words of a certain cartoon prince: what else is there?

I love that movie more than is reasonable for a man of my age.

The main thing that I took away from reading through my revised manuscript – which I am calling Draft 1, following the Zero Draft – was that while the overall flow of the story did feel much better, the structure of the sub-plots needed a lot of work. To this end I’ve just quickly made synposes of the main 5 sub-plots, and thankfully they all revolve around character relationships so it’s easy to flesh them out into premises for self-contained narrative arcs.

It’s working well; I’m seeing where the holes are and where focus needs to be tightened by taking each of these relationships and treating it as though it’s an entire story all on its own, which makes me look for ways to get the most out of each premise. Going back to the points I made (or at least tried to make) about originality the other day, I’m taking these premises and using what’s familiar to build a coherent path through the story. I’m just thinking about putting a familiar narrative together, a story that I recognise and feels solid. It’s quite empowering.

The good news is that three of the five sub-plots feel much more solid than I thought they would, but I stopped writing them to write this post instead when I got to the fourth one, as I knew at once that it was The Problem, and it’s been that way from day one. It’s probably to do with how late it is – it’s almost 3:30 a.m. as I write this – and will look better in the morning, but it’s as much a sense of finality as anything else. This particular thorn in my side has been around for so long, and I’m finally forced to face it in all of its lodged, infuriating glory and find a way to resolve this ongoing issue.

It’s so clarifying. I feel lucky that I even thought of doing this; I’ve been wracking my brain all day about how to get started and then it just clicked. And I guess that’s how it happens, and I should be used to it by now. Make an effort in the general direction that you want to go and try some things and, eventually, you’ll stumble upon the solution you’re looking for.

Which means that Draft 3 is officially a-go. By this point I’ve been working on Tallulah for twenty-two months. I’m going to miss it once it’s over, but at the same time I really, really want to move on to something else. I need some variation, and I need the time and energy to devote to it. I do think I’ll keep writing other things on the side while I’m revising, but I crave the freedom to really dig into a new project, get swept up in it again. But I’ve got solidarity and commitment with Tallulah, and while it’s not always exciting – although it’s getting exciting again now – there’s really no substitute for it.

Here we go again.