False Starts

I started writing The Cunning for real on Monday (so my WIP sidebar will get updated more often for a while, FYI). These are the first new words I've written in months. Yet for all my planning, I didn't plan enough.

I'm constantly trying to find ways to write faster. Things like making comments where I can research later (instead of stopping to research now) or forcing myself to just write even though I hate what's coming out (because you can fix bad writing, but you can't fix what's not there). But it's so hard when I've just come off polishing Air Pirates to a shiny, cast-iron sheen. Especially the beginning.

See, the beginning is the most important part. It's the first thing everybody sees, and it's how they determine whether they can trust you as a writer. So at the end of a novel, you go over it again and again until it's perfect. It's easier at the end because you know who the characters are and you know everything that happens. You can drop hints and make your voice come shining through.

When you start a new novel, you also have to start at the beginning.* But now, even if you planned everything, you don't really know what will happen. You don't really know the characters, and you're probably not even sure of your voice.

Here's the paradox. You go from working on one beginning to the other. The first beginning is as perfect as you know how to make it. The second beginning is terrible; you know it, you don't know why, and you can't shake the feeling that this beginning should be as good as the one you just finished working on.

That's where I was on Monday, telling myself everything I'd learned in the last couple of years. "Just write it." "I can't fix it until something's there." "I hate it, but I don't know why so there's no reason to keep staring at it." "I'll know how to fix it when I've written more of the novel." After an hour and a half of this, I'd managed to pry out 349 words.

I don't have any lesson for you in this. Maybe just to let you know that you're not alone, and this is one reason why starting a new novel is hard, even though finishing the last one was so awesome.

The worst part is, when it was over I went online to research those things I wasn't allowed to while writing. The opening scene takes place in a Karen refugee camp under attack by Burmese soldiers, and it took me all of 5 minutes to find really awesome information that unstuck all the parts of the scene that were stuck.

That kind of thing makes me rethink my commitment to do no research while writing. It's also why I will never win NaNoWriMo.

* Well maybe you don't have to, but I do.


Matthew Delman said...

This is why I never hold off on research while writing. You can always find at least the basics of what you need within 5-10 minutes tops. Half the time I really only need one little detail to unstick all the stickiness.

Good points, all.

Natalie Whipple said...

Yeah, don't stop yourself from researching! It is such a great tool to get the story moving again. At least for me.

Also, I so feel you on this! I struggled immensely right after my last ninja edits. Nothing new I wrote was good enough, and it took a lot of pushing myself to just write. I got over it, but I still can't breeze through like I used to.

Joshua McCune said...

It's funny, the more I've written, the slower I've become. Some of this is due to the fact that I've become more self-aware/critical, but some is also b/c I've lost a bit of confidence (mainly in that darned beginning part you reference)

Adam Heine said...

Thanks, guys! And I think you're right. I'm going to have to reinstate researching while writing, at least until either (a) I get on a roll again or (b) I fail in self-discipline and spend two hours looking at wingsuit videos.