Thursday, February 14, 2008

What to do when a book is going off the rails…

Working on my current WIP and having a hard time with it. A really hard time with what is essentially a first draft. It’s writing slower than any book I’ve ever written before. Each page is eeked out with what seems like blood and sweat, and I know, and it kills me, that I’m basically going to have to re-write two thirds from scratch for the second draft.


Karma maybe. The last book was pretty easy to write, certainly the first draft came out almost as a dream.

I’m really critical of myself on this book.. which might be proving to be anti-productive. I feel like I should be writing faster and better and what’s happening is the opposite.

I’m also trying to write the first book of what I hope will be a series, and I know the decisions made now will affect future books. (assuming this sells, which shouldn’t enter my mindframe now as it doesn’t do the writing any good)

And I just didn’t have a handle on some key elements of the character. And it’s taken me a long time to figure them out, and even still I don’t think I know for sure. My hero is proving particularly troublesome and he has a huge character arc throughout the story, so knowing him well is important.

So I’ve found myself going back to re-work scenes, which I almost never do. Plotting out again and again, writing scenes that don’t belong in the book just to understand characters better.

I think I’m just going to have to file this one under ‘some books are hard to write’. Hopefully in the end it will be worth it.

What techniques work for the writers out there when a book isn’t going well?


Heidi the Hick said...

I'm not really the one to give advice on this, because when I was having a hard time with a book last fall, I switched over to another one. Then I dropped that one to edit the one before the one before.

You might not want to try that approach though! The only good thing is that I can tell myself that I'm still working.

Another thing that does work: just take your character and write. Describe looks, details like scars, hair, eye colour, teeth. No story, just what he's like. Play What If and describe what he'd do in certain situations, how he'd react. Even if you never go back and read it, it's in your head.

Good luck!

Molly O'Keefe said...

I was just thinking about this yesterday!!! Kismet. The last book I finished except for a few scenes pretty much wrote itself. It just happened and now with this new one egads!I'm doing the same thing - writing a lot of boring scenes and then realizeing they don't go anywhere and cutting them. And yesterday while staring into space at a coffee shop wondering if this book was just bad - I realized - I just have to write those scenes. They have to happen and they have to be cut but I think that the benefit of those things is they help you get into the world a little better - most of those boring scenes are sort of the minutiea (can't spell) of the character's lives - dull to read but good to know and once you know that stuff you can kind of short cut it into other scenes. ths's my hope. My other worry is that maybe I don't --- in your words --- have enough crap going on. Very real possiblity.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Heidi, great suggestions.
Molly, nice to know you feel my pain.
Doing the same thing. Writing the scenes that defined the characters, but are not necessarily part of the story. And it seems to be working.
It's certainly helping me choose what decisions the characters might make.
I'm also learning, no matter how much I plot, I still can't get everything sorted out.. and sometimes I just need to write without knowing what will happen next..

Maureen McGowan said...

You know, some of what you're describing might mean that your process is evolving, that you're going deeper into character development with this book? I say let yourself write a bunch of stuff that you might later cut and don't beat yourself up about it. Embrace it as part of getting to know your character well.

But I totally know what you mean about some books pouring out while others drip -- and not even in a consistent drip. More like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Margaret Moore said...

Oh, I know this feeling! I agree -- sometimes the writing of material that gets cut is a necessary way to get to know the characters better. It was for you, not the book.

And yes, don't be too hard on yourself. It seems like a waste of time, but it's not (says she who just cut out about 20 pages from the first 100 of the first draft because they were telling, and boring, and too much backstory).

But there comes a time when you have to just forge on ahead, because when you get to the end, you'll have an even better idea of what needs to stay, and what can go, and what needs to be changed. Forging ahead can be tough to do (like feeling your way while blindfolded), but you can wallow too long and waste too much time fixing parts that you discover at the end have to go anyway.

You'll get there. It's just that you've got an Everest this time, not the Niagara Escarpment. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the words of wisdom, Margaret. I will perservere.

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