*whistles, twiddles thumbs*
What to do while waiting for labor to begin? How about writing? Yep, I'm back to work on the new novel. Yay! I love coming back to a project after an absence, reading it from scratch and [hopefully] loving it. This goes counter to the usual advice, but I've found that, for me, setting a novel aside for a space of time can be just what I need to surge forward and get a new chunk of story out. I'm not saying it's what you should do, I'm just saying, sometimes . . . well, sometimes a little distance and clarity can help you find the next puzzle piece that will take the story in the right direction.
I wrote Blackbringer over the course of 2-1/2 years, with many "breaks" from it of a month or several. Again, I'm not saying this is the best way to write a book, but it did get written ultimately, and I remember with fondness the times I'd sit down with the manuscript I had left gathering dust a month earlier, and get reacquainted with it. Inevitably, I'd revise as I reread, make notes, see things I hadn't been able to see before, make small (and large) changes. Then I'd figure out the next steps.
I didn't take as many long breaks from Silksinger on account of it being awaited by my editor. Once I got started on it, I sat down with it most days and banged my head against it. I had a really hard time finding my way into that book. The problem was: I had too many ideas. I couldn't settle on which ones worked best. I wrote the first 50-60 pages of that book many many times, each time changing my mind about some crucial plot or character element and having to start from scratch. For a long time, Whisper began the story as a drudge-worker in a weaving house in Nazneen, living in a dormitory with other girls. Hirik was the weaving house owner's son. Hirik was not nice. Gasp! I'll say no more, since the book isn't OUT yet, and only a few readers will know what I'm talking about. In any case, the characters are very different in the final version. It took me quite a few false starts to find them.
The point is: when I start a book or story, I always think I know a lot about it, but I'm always wrong. It's only as I go that I discover how much I don't know. A book grows up around you as you write, and it shifts and bucks and disagrees with you. It's like an unruly horse that sees shoots of delectable grass off the path you've chosen for it, and it strays. Ah yes, if you are an excellent rider you might succeed in keeping it always on the path, but should you? What if the horse's instincts are right, its sense of smell keener than yours? By ignoring it, what might you be missing?
How do you know who's right, when the story disagrees with you?
A good friend of mine is currently writing a story that has a will of its own, and she asked me: how do you know when to let the story goes its own way, and when to stick to your plan? There's no simple answer to that question, because the truth is: sometimes the original plan will be for the best, and sometimes the serendipitous new direction will make the story blossom for the better. And sometimes, sorry to say, the answer is: none of the above; keep trying! I think my process is to give the horse some freedom and see what happens, and be willing to backtrack if it leads me astray.
You just don't know, at any given moment, what's ultimately going to be best for the story.
Jim and I had this painting instructor in art school who gave us the most ludicrous piece of bad advice ever. For some background, Jim and I were both Illustration majors, and this painting class was a Fine Art class. There's a huge distinction and divide between Illustration and Fine Art. Fine Art is what you see in galleries (you know, when you laugh at the price of a solid red canvas?), Illustration is what you have in magazines and books. Well, that simplistic, but do you know what I mean? Fine artists thinks illustrators are sell-outs, and illustrators think . . . well, I can't speak for all illustrators, but I think a lot of things about fine art. Where we went to art school, the illustrators were learning technical skills, like how to draw and paint, whereas the fine artists were "expressing themselves". This painting class was all about "expressing yourself" and was NOT teaching us the technical skills we wanted to learn. The teacher at one point told us -- this is the terrible advice -- that we should be able to stop painting at any moment in the process and have the painting be considered "finished."
That's like saying that any time your fingers stop typing, your novel could be considered "finished." With illustration, as with writing, it doesn't work like that. It's about craft. In fine art, I suppose, it's more about feeling and mood, whatever, but in illustration, as in writing, the process is not the thing. The finished product is the thing. However you arrive at it, that will be invisible to the reader/viewer. However many scenes you wrote and deleted, however many wrong turns you took before you figured it out, no one will ever know. So just keep trying and trying. Any *mistakes* will be rendered invisible by the end, any wrong turns will vanish as if they never happened, so long as you keep trying, and eventually discover the *right way*.
Of course, there isn't a *right way,* is there? Do you ever stop to think how a story could at any moment go in one of a hundred directions? A thousand? Any finished manuscript is one of a thousand *right ways,* and the best we can hope for is that it is a good way. I often catch myself thinking that if I were to write a particular scene on a different day, the novel might turn out completely different. If I'd been writing my current novel two weeks ago instead of painting the bedroom, what might I have thought up that would be different with what I'll come up with today? No way to know. It strums at the imagination.
There is no single perfect manifestation for a novel. There are decisions that feel right at a given moment, and there are dozens of chances to change your mind. So, coming back to a manuscript with fresh eyes, it's a second chance to see things I didn't see before. Sometimes that's what I need. Also, the hope is that I love what I wrote before and can revel in self-satisfaction for a short time before getting back to the business of putting new words on the page. Sigh. The hard part. You know the old quote, "I don't love writing, I love having written." Totally.
So, yeah. No baby yet. A long time ago I guessed that Professor's birthday would be August 4th, and here we are, still no signs of imminent baby arrival. The big SCBWI national conference is this weekend, and I hope the baby is born before or during, or else we'll be sitting home waiting for her and wishing we were in Los Angeles with all our awesome children's book friends. Heck, I could have my feet in the pool while eating cake with writers! Wah. Oh well. Next year :-)