When I Almost Gave Up Novel Writing
I just got accepted into Odyssey’s Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel, which is a huge milestone in the journey for book Miasma. You see, because of Miasma, I thought about giving up novel writing and going back to just short stories.
When I broke up with my cowriter, it was messy and I was very angry. But I realized one thing: I needed to get another book started. That became Miasma. I wrote the entire story in about 30 days. Then started revising it right on the screen.
Yet, there were a couple of nagging problems. These problems were why I had agreed to cowrite in first place, and unfortunately, cowriting didn’t fix them:
- The books ran too short, as in unpublishably too short.
- I couldn’t get subplots into the story.
So I cast about for solutions. But how-to books are written for common problems, and these was clearly rare problems. I posted to message boards, and this was typical of the response:
“Just add a romance!”
Uh, guys, I couldn’t get the subplots into the story. How would adding a romance be any different? It was discouraging because there was nothing out there. I finally decided that subplots weren’t going to happen. So I did every workaround I could think of to get the word count up.
Enter The Details Monster.
A little short on a scene? Add more details.
I did not know I was bad with details. I was a big picture thinker, but twelve years in the army had left me overcompensating on the details. What I didn’t realize was that I couldn’t tell when I had gone to far.
I finally got the story up to 80K. Barely. I sent it out the agents, got the rejections, though I was scared to death of the prospect of getting published. I wasn’t sure what I would do if I got published and had a year deadline and ran into more problems.
One agent was kind enough to give me comments. When I read them, I realized that the subplot problem was really affecting the story, and that I’d gone too far on the details.
So I restarted the story from scratch and used mind maps to help me cut back on the bigger details. I decided to only use three of the bigger details on any subject and that forced me to pick the best of what I had. One of those was on what kind of magic the main character had. I also decided to let the lowest level of details go because it was too hard trying to manage the Details Monster.
But that subplot problem was still there. Maddeningly, I could see how it was influencing the story and creating other problems, and yet, I did not know what causing it. If I couldn’t figure that out, my novels were dead in the water.
At the point, I wondered if I was ever going to be able to produce a publishable novel, and if it was worth my time beating myself over trying to solve the problems.
For whatever reason, I started looking on the internet one more time in the hopes of finding a clue, and I ran across Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel. There’s a lot of truth it in it. I had been line editing rather than revising, which was keeping me from seeing the story. I signed up and spent two months pulling out my hair. I was going through pages and pages and pages and pages of details. There was so much I could not find the story.
I also found myself beating around the edges of the subplot problem. Only now it also involved theme. Class members told me that theme and subplot were there, and that I must just not be seeing them.
Finally on lesson ten, the source of the problem revealed itself to me. I was walking through one of the steps and it suddenly hit me that I’d started the story way late. Every writing book assumes that writers need to chop off the first 50 pages, not that the writer is starting too late. I’d literally started in the middle.
It explained a lot. I’d been seeing setup in weird places, even at the end. Because the story started in the wrong place, setup had to force its way into the story, and it was forcing out theme and subplots.
Or so I thought … my journey to the land of subplots and details was only beginning.
Have you ever had a time when you just wanted to give up because the problem seemed so insurmountable? Tell me below!