Monday, January 25, 2016

The brilliantly terrible; ground-breaking, yet cliched; poorly well-written first novel

     Hey, I have a crazy idea: let's talk about my vampire novel! Because we haven't done that for awhile, right? I think two posts ago at least. 

     Seriously, though. What I would actually like to talk about is not so much the plot of my vampire novel, but the fact that it's my first novel, first novels in general, the process of writing them, and what I've learned so far from the experience. 

     Let's start at the beginning. There was light. The light from that white blank page that didn't stay blank for very long because the moment I finally decided to put pen to paper (so to speak) I had a lot to say. 

     Like many new writers I was absolutely certain that the story I was writing was unique, ground-breaking, spectacularly brilliant, and something that would make jaws drop and people would say, "Wow. That was amazing. Where has Becky Munyon been hiding? She is the most amazing writer on the planet." Yeah, I really did think that, more or less. So, when my first novel was finished (ha ha. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. A feat for sure, but finished? Not by far) I decided to share the first chapter on an online critique site. I excitedly awaited for the appraising (and somewhat jealous. Yeah, I admit it. I was that cocky) comments to come in. 

     Wow. Did my bubble get burst. It was like someone pushed me off a cliff. The basic message behind the comments was that my writing needed work. A lot of work. Not only that, but the mistakes I'd made were the same mistakes hundreds of new writers make. Telling instead of showing; using way too many adjectives and adverbs; using too many big, technical words because I was trying to show how awesomely smart I was; thinking that describing my MC by having her look in a mirror was a brilliant idea that no one on the planet has ever thought of; thinking that clever dialogue tags (admitted, countered, argued, put in, stated, added, etc.) was a brilliant idea that no one on the planet has ever thought of. The list goes on. 

     That was a hard pill to swallow. I spent the next two days crying on and off, certain I was a hack, had just wasted a year of my life, and could never, ever be a good writer. After some encouraging words from my friends, some books on writing (who would've thought?) and a lot of reading, I picked myself up and vowed that I would make my book awesome. So I revised. And revised. 

     And revised some more. 

     Five years later I am revising again, though there were roughly two years in there that I was working on different projects. 

     Something I've heard over and over on the internet from various people is that their first novel (sometimes their first two or three novels) will never see the light of day. Most people seem okay with this. They've accepted the fact that when they wrote their first novel they just didn't have the skills necessary to make it presentable. Now that I've spent time away from my first novel and started two others, I can see why this happens. I think that at a certain point one has to try new projects in order to learn and grow. After starting my second and third novels I went back and read what I thought was the near-perfect and complete version of my first novel and was shocked. It wasn't bad; it simply was "good enough." Not brilliant and spectacular and not nearly as well written as even the polished first draft of my 2nd novel. How is that possible? 

     By writing new characters in new settings with new conflicts we allow our brains the opportunity to expand. Now that my brain has done that (Yay!), I want to go back to novel number one and make it great. The problem is, I fear that might not be possible. But since I hate to say never or to think that a task is impossible, I'm going to give it all I've got. That being said, I understand why some people say there is just no hope for certain stories. I think one reason for this is that I've spent so much time looking at this thing that my mind is stuck back in amateur mode because I've seen it a certain way for so long. Even though I'm completely rewriting it, those old lines and sequences are so burned into my brain that it's extremely difficult to evolve the writing. I'm having a hard time doing with my old characters what I can now easily do with the new ones. It's very strange and frustrating and daunting. But I'm not giving up. 

     My vampire novel is my first baby. I love my characters and want to work hard to elevate them to new places. I wish I hadn't been so stubborn and arrogant when I first started writing. I thought I knew everything I needed to know. If I'd recognized that I had a lot to learn I might've gotten to where I am now faster. But, hey, it's a lesson learned and better late than never, I guess. 

     When I finally did realize that I wasn't born knowing everything there is to know about writing fiction, I was so devastated that I blindly listened to every piece of advice I got. This lead me to writing lines that weren't consistent with my voice or my character's voice, and to include conflicts that didn't have a place in the story. I now find myself putting things back to the way they were in the long ago second draft. This isn't to say that getting advice is bad. It isn't. It's necessary. Unfortunately, there is no formula for knowing which advice to take and which advice to flush down the toilet. It can sometimes be extremely difficult, but I'm getting better at it. The important thing is that I've learned to trust my own instincts again, which I'd temporarily stopped doing when I was knocked off my pedestal. 

     I guess the main message here is balance. It's important to be confident, but not so much so that one is unwilling to see their own flaws. It's also important to give a project everything you have, but not to make one project the end all be all of one's writing career. You can't learn if you don't take risks and try new things. So, here's to giving it my all! 

     (Wish me luck.)