Okay, first things first. I’ve been doing a terrible job on this blog. But… I do have to admit that I have another blog. Or at least I have for a month or so. I know, I know. You may have seen my last post where I said that I wanted to write about more things than I had been writing about. I’ve really agonized over that though, because I don’t want to dilute this blog too much. I want this one to be about my books and, more generally, about writing. That blog is all about what I think about things, particularly about things like psychology and human nature, and about my faith. Or anything else I feel like writing about, really.
But that isn’t really why I’m writing today. I’m working on the follow up to The Timekeeper’s Son, and it is taking me forever. I mean, like forever. I’ve never really stopped working on it, but it has been really slow going. It has been slow, because, well, it is hard. Getting out this rough draft is so much harder than it was with the first book. The first book is told completely and totally through the eyes of Andy Meyers. If he doesn’t know it, then you, the reader, don’t know it either. That makes the world very, very small. It means that the apparent conflict in front of him is the conflict of the story. As a recent reviewer pointed out, as soon as the conflict is resolved, the story ends.
Well, the next book covers the same timeline, but it is from other peoples’ viewpoints. There are two characters you’ll meet, Alison and Derrick. Neither one of these two show up in the first book as far as Andy knows. In this book, the world is way bigger than Andy realizes, and there is way more going on than he realizes.
Sound cool? I hope so. But I have to be honest. This wasn’t on purpose. I really didn’t set out to write a science fiction book. That’s why many of the reviews say that it is light science fiction (and this book will be, too). I had a really cool idea that was sci-fi, but I was more interested in the suspense and drama of the story. And so I didn’t give the science fiction part of it, I didn’t give the world, as much attention as I should have. And that is a theme that shows up pretty consistently in my reviews. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great story (I average 4 stars), it just isn’t finished.
So, the reason it’s been two years and I’m still working on my rough draft (only about 25K words in) is because I’m trying to fix that. I’m trying to paint the bigger world that Andy dropped into. I’m bringing much more clarity to the reason he ripped. Not the science fiction reason, mind you. It is still the dramatic reason. I’m still more interested in the story than the science fiction. That may still bite me, but I hope not. I’m hoping that I clear up enough of the questions that were raised in the first book. And I’m hoping that the readers will love it as much as they love the idea of it.
But that isn’t really why I’m writing either.
I have said before that the rough draft is hard. And it is. Hard. Super hard. I’ve been writing for two hours this morning, and I’ve written fewer words than this point in this blog post. I get into the manuscript and I slow to a crawl. I have to think about where I’m going and how to get there. In a much earlier blog, I likened the process (based on another writer’s analogy) to hacking your way through a rainforest. The goal is to get to the other side. That was the problem with my first book. I hacked my way to the other side and then made it look pretty. I didn’t really develop it the way that I could have, but that’s okay. I really think this is going to work. It is a risk, but then again, my readers rank in the hundreds or maybe thousands, but certainly not tens of thousands.
Anyway, if you find yourself in the position of writing your rough draft, and you find yourself thinking, “This can’t be this hard. I must not be any good at this,” stop. Stop right there. Shut it. Writing fiction is unbelievably hard, particularly if you are any good at it. Not all the time, though. Sometimes, a scene catches fire and you take off, writing five or six thousand words in a sitting. Other days, it really is like trying to squeeze blood from the proverbial turnip. Two hours in, and you’re off to blast out 1,200 words of blog post in one quarter the time it took you to push out 600 words that you aren’t particularly thrilled with. But it doesn’t matter, because they are 600 words of skeleton, which, for me, could translate into as much as 2,000 words of finished prose.
See, that’s really the point. Understand your style. I had to write an entire book to really figure out my style. In the first book, I kept rewriting chapters as I went, and it took me forever, and it kept me from creating the depth that I wanted to. It kept me from it, because I never really saw the story from the 20,000 foot level. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good story. And I think telling it from a different perspective is really going to work, but that doesn’t change what I learned from it.
Stephen King once said that he tries to write between 1,000 and 2,000 good words a day. I don’t agree. I know, I know: Mr. Unknown disagreeing with a guy who has sold more books in the last half hour than I have ever. But that doesn’t change the fact that my style is different than his, and that it is okay. For me, writing fiction is like creating a sculpture. First, you hack at it, getting the general shape. To look at it when you finish the first cut, you can barely tell what it will look like when you are done. But then you go at it again, adding shape. And then again, and again, and again. Each time, it becomes more refined. You start to add depth and character. You start to flesh it out – literally. You literally start to add flesh onto the bones of your story.
That is really the moral of what I’m trying to say. Let your style be your style. Trust yourself, but know when your work isn’t finished. It can be well written, but not finished. Be patient, and let it be what it is. Let it suck if the first draft needs to suck. Let the dialog be rough or cliché or straight up dumb. Let the scene transitions be jarring. Let the descriptions be nonexistent. Write the skeleton, and put it in a drawer (so to speak). Don’t touch it until you forget what you wrote – for the most part anyway. Then, and only then do a full reading, taking notes like crazy. Those notes become the flesh of your story.