I am doing more things than reading and ranting about reading, I assure you (…the writer said defensively). Didn’t you say that the first draft was done? Aren’t indie books supposed to have a turnaround time measured in days or weeks? What gives?
Here’s what happened, and what is still happening.
The first draft of The Healers’ Home was my first experience with trying to closely outline a story from the beginning. After absorbing a solid year of writing advice, I also had the conviction that stories had to be zippy, fast, short, fast, low on boring fluff, fast, pared-to-the-bone, fast, action-packed, fast, and also fast. Who wants scenes of people eating breakfast? Seriously. Feelings and thoughts are for literary fiction, and literary fiction is for bad snobs who hate everything and are bad and evil. Good people like genre fiction! Genre fiction says that getting into characters’ heads is bad, and car chases / mech battles / sword-slinging is good. And it is absolutely, completely impossible to ever have both in any way because it’s a zero-sum game between the two, and also everything is either black or white, good or bad, always.
This is what my brain was marinating in for a year after releasing the first book.
Out of the genres on offer, I write fantasy, nominally. Fantasy is about spells and dragons and giant battles with swords. Which I don’t have in my book. And if I can’t write it right, the least I can do is skip all that breakfast.
In my anxiety to write a better/more acceptable book, the first draft railroaded from one plot point to the next as fast as possible. Most of the plot points were external (something happens to a character, coming in from the outside world) rather than internal (a character changes their thoughts/feelings about something, or makes a decision). Because that’s what’s Right and Good, right?
It took about 6 weeks to write and clocked in at 85,000 words. (The Healers’ Road was around 120,000.) It’s shorter! More things happen! I skipped over more of the boring stuff! It’s less like what I usually write. It has to be better.
My Ultimate Rough Draft Reader said: I like it, but…
…I didn’t cut out enough boring stuff? I thought. Should there be explosions? I don’t know how to write good. Argh.
…but, he said, it seems choppy. You jump past so much stuff that I feel like I’m walking in and out of the room while someone is watching a show.
Exactly, I skipped all the boring parts! I said. Everyone says that’s better. Everyone.
He said, if someone’s reading your books, though, your style is what they like. That’s what they came for.
BUT MY STYLE IS WRONG, I thought, gritting my teeth. SHORT. FAST. ZIPPY. THAT IS GOOD. Slow, character-focused books are for bad people, and I don’t want to be a bad person. I want to do this right. I want people to like it. I want to get better at this.
Grudgingly accepting that I had to try to be myself, I went back and found parts that I skipped. I started to write them out and add them in. The characters getting used to their new home. Meeting peers and mentors and townsfolk. Going to festivals. Having heartfelt talks. The metaphorical people eating breakfast. Everything that made up most of my first book. Everything that I have been told over and over again is bad and wrong, that makes me a terrible “literary” snob with boring books.
The second draft currently stands at 147,000 words, which will be pared back as I go through my sentence-tightening stage and decide where to winnow out bits of scenes. Those 62,000 extra words have taken about three months to write, three times as long as the first 85,000. Granted, my life was a shambles for part of that time, but I write at least 500 words every single day (across 3 projects).
What’s to learn here? Outlining helps enormously. I have to be myself, whether I like it or not. Next time, I’ll try to include the breakfast in the outline.
In the new year, my goal may be: come to terms with “doing it wrong” and get that guilt out of my head.
Genre fiction in its accepted sense is fine by me. Literary fiction is also fine by me. I don’t want the two to be a zero-sum game, a battlefield for staking out one’s insecurities about something mean a professor said to you in that composition class you took in college / that roommate who called you a nerd and wouldn’t turn off Evil Dead so you could sleep. I don’t care about any of that. I don’t think your preferences in writing or reading material say anything about who you are as a person. I am not going to play that game.
What I write right now are stories in non-Earth worlds/societies that include some magical elements. They focus on individuals, their thoughts and feelings, and how they change and grow and affect one another. If that makes me highbrow AND lowbrow, fine. I do it wrong no matter who you’re talking to. But that’s what I have to bring to the table.
All I have to do is to convince myself that I don’t have to buy into the dichotomy / zero-sum / stereotyping part of it. I can say “take it or leave it” to everyone else, but I need to convince myself of it, too.
The additional breakfastness is coming along well. I have about seven new/rewritten scenes to go before I’m ready to go to beta. It will happen. Late, so late that perhaps no one is left in the audience. But it will happen.