I don't have very many nice things to say about 2010. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, but I think that might be the only good thing that happened. That and I have an amazing husband, family, and friends. Every time I hang out with them, especially the friends I've known forever and don't get to see enough, I feel so lucky to know such smart, funny, kind, caring, and completely unique people. And my husband is like that too of course, plus he is my stability, my rock.
Without these people I don't think I could have survived 2010.
2010 has been hell year in so many ways. It started off with a mysterious sickness affecting all three of my cats that would take 10 months to get under control and is something we'll be walking a tightrope to handle for the rest of their lives.
2010 was the year that anything that could go wrong did. It was the year the house flooded. Twice. Exactly one month apart. I used to tell myself that bad things happened in threes and then came the good. But the bad things just kept coming. Every phone call was bad news, another worry, another heartache.
So good riddance to 2010. My only concern is that it won't take all of its bad juju with it. But my best friend keeps pointing out that we have better luck in odd number years. I'm trying to tell myself this is true. I met my husband in an odd number year, married him in an odd number year, and I sold my first book in an odd number year....
Oh the book thing, without a doubt that has been the worst thing about 2010. I had a lofty plan this year to write two books in one year even though TWO YEARS is the shortest period of time it has ever taken me to write ONE book. I thought I might be able to sell on partial though, particularly to the publisher that put out my first two books. But they rejected my third book in January. I told myself it was okay because they were interested in seeing an adult book from me and I wanted to rewrite that partial as an adult book. Plus I had another partial that I was super excited about and thought would get snatched right up. That one got rejected by multiple publishers, though a few of them said they would be interested in seeing it if I developed the whole thing.
Okay, I thought, I'll do that after I finish this adult book. The bartender book as those of you who read my blog or follow my Twitter have come to know it. At that time I was in love with the story, in love with the characters and the writing was going well. I still love the story, still love the characters, but the writing has been terrible for the past four or five months. Every time I hit my stride, I hit a snag. I've tried every trick I know. Taking a break and starting something new. Writing quickly, writing slowly. Getting my critique partners to take a look at it. I finished a very rough draft thinking that rewriting would be a new mindset and that was when things would clear up for me.
For a while they did. It was very slow going. Like I've revised four chapters/sixty pages this entire month slow going, but it felt good. I'd done a fair amount of cutting and compressing and reshaping and I was feeling positive even though I know I have a lot of work ahead. (Altogether I have to cut 60,000 words. Yeah, that's a lot.) I still thought with my upcoming writing retreat, I'd be in a good place. By then I would have gotten past the hardest parts and would have nothing but momentum to build on during my retreat. For me, that is when a writing retreat is truly productive, when you've already got a project off the ground and know it well. Then you have the time to really fly through it. My best writing retreat was when I was finishing a major draft of BALLADS and had time to start a second draft immediately. I was totally in the zone and I thought that was going to happen this time too. And if it did I thought I could possibly finish the rewrite by end of January/early February and have a full book to shop for the first time in three years. Yes, three years. That's how long ago I finished the draft of Ballads that sold. I've been struggling to find the right story and write the whole story ever since.
Monday, I hit a wall. There is so much back story that has to be woven into this book. It can be woven through out and would work best that way, but I don't know how to do it. Tuesday, I skipped the chapter where I got stuck and tried the next one. Ran into the same problem. Maybe I need to carefully outline, something which I normally hate doing because I love making discoveries on the page. Maybe I'm just not good enough to tell this story.
I'm not trying to sound whiny or fish for compliments here. I know I'm a pretty good writer. This year I've begun to doubt that I'll ever seriously be great though. This year, after all of the rejection, from publishers, from my dream writing retreat, after the disappointment with the performance of my first two books, I started to think about all that I'd given up to do this. I told myself that if I was ever going to have kids I'd decide to do it by the age of 32. That's next year. I'm in no financial state to have a child if we decided we wanted one. I told myself I'd be living in Seattle by now, the place where I really really want to be, but I'm still stuck in Chicago, a place that though I have friends and family here, I really have never liked living in.
Again, not meaning to sound whiny. This is what being a writer is. Sacrifices for the story, for doing what you love. And when it comes down to it, when I sit there and try to think what else I could do instead of writing--and I have admittedly done that many times this year--I draw a complete blank. This is the only thing I want to do. I can't imagine a life without writing stories. Though sometimes I want it and think it would be so much simpler to just work a regular job and come home and enjoy other people's stories in books, in TV. But really truly I can't imagine it. This is what I do.
And 2011, I kept telling myself, would be my year. I would break through. I would sell another book. Maybe even my breakout book, but dude, if I could just finish a book, a book I was as proud of as the last one, that alone would be an accomplishment.
But now I am starting to wondering if I made all of these sacrifices this year for the wrong story. Have I wasted an entire year trying to write a book that is too big or I am simply not good enough to write?
I have other ideas, but none of them as fully formed as the one I'm working on now. To start fresh would mean to spend months brainstorming and drafting, maybe even a whole year. Instead of having a book ready to shop this spring, it would most likely mean next winter. That scares me. Starting again scares me. I don't do that. Not without finishing something. Yes, I stopped writing the book that became BALLADS for years to work on I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE but that is because I'd gotten that book as far as I could take it and knew it needed time and because IWBYJR was tugging so hard. I knew it was time to set one aside and work on the other. I knew.
Right now I don't know.
I love the bartender book and I want to see it through, but I'm afraid that I can't and I'm so sick of the constant battles with it. For every good week of writing, I have a shitty month. It's beginning to remind me of a bad relationship. Before my husband, I dated someone for eight years. For at least three of those years, I knew that the relationship was never going to work, but I was too scared to admit that I failed. So I wasted all of that time and energy.
My point is that even though I knew when to break up with the pre-BALLADS book, I have a history of not being able to admit failure. And I'm really starting to wonder if I should scream UNCLE! and walk away from the bartender book. Start 2011 fresh. No bad juju from 2010 left. However that also means that 2011 will feel a lot like 2010-- a long uphill battle to get my writing career back on track, a whole new book that I don't feel like I have confidence to write. AND the writing retreat I've been looking forward to may not be as helpful as I hoped because that kind of writing time is not productive for me on a fresh project. I need more daydreaming time then.
So there are pro's and con's on both sides, but I just don't know. I guess I'll see how today goes. Due to work and holiday plans this is my last day of 2010 to write and I think I'm going to spend it outlining and index carding and seeing if I can figure things out. Then I'll at least give it one last try on January 2 at my writer's group, but man, if it doesn't work....
I leave on my retreat in a little over a week. I really want to be productive there because it cost me money that I don't really have to spend and I really do just want to be in a much better mindset next year. I need to be happy with my life and my writing again.
So I'm looking for advice here. How do you know when it's time to break up with a book? And would you ever break up with a book if you wrote 160,000 words, spent a year on it and were already part way into the revision? What's more important, a fresh start for the new year or feeling like I've accomplished something? And for those of you who have listened to me whiny closely over the past few months, your thoughts are especially appreciated because you probably know my angst better than anyone. I love this story, but is it worth the continued agony? Out with the old, in with the new? Or keep on keeping on?
I guess for now, I'll go tackle that outline.