Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Writing Conundrum

So I've had this concept that I've wanted to make into a story for more than 3 years now. I've tried it a few different ways, adjusting the plot line, the world (the real world vs. a more fantastical setting), the title, the character names. There has always been something Not Quite Right.

Since I've finished (for now, there is no such thing as finished til it is published) with The Bartender Book, I felt I should move back to this one. This is kind of how I work since I'm a slow writer. I have kind of a catalog of ideas in my brain that stew for quite some time and eventually I get back to them. This is the concept I've had for almost as long if not longer than The Bartender Book, so it seems that naturally it should be the next book I write.

But here's the thing. I've been stewing on it for a few weeks now and while I have these pieces of a puzzle that I think are brilliant and utterly unique. I can't seem to arrange them into a story. Normally this is not an issue for me. I'm not a plotter. I dive into the scene that I can't get out of my head and I just go. I figure out from there who my characters are, what they want, what is stopping them, where they came from and where they are going. I write for a little while and then I plot or at least I put the bigger chunks of plot that I know in order and then just go back to writing and it comes together-- not necessarily easily. I usually completely panic somewhere around the 3/4 mark and I'm never happy with it until I've been through a couple rounds of revisions, but that is how I work.

It's how I worked on my first couple attempts on this book idea, I had full story arcs for them, but they were Not Right. Maybe that's why this is happening now. I don't want to write 50 or 75 pages of this story again and have it fail. Maybe it's just the kind of story that is going to need a world and need rules (because it will probably be fantasy to some degree, whether straight up urban fantasy or mostly realistic with a twist is still to be determined) and I feel like I need to know them. Maybe I'm just scared shitless because this story puts me outside of the boundaries of what I usually write. All I know is that for much of the past month and definitely for the past four days, I have sat down with this scene in my head and can't write more a than a hundred words or so, usually just changing words that are already written because I need to know my characters' history, I need to know where they are going and most of all I need to know their fucking names!!! (Because their names will be determined by certain traits, which I need to figure out.)

So I keep freezing up. Earlier this month and last month there were reasons. The past six weeks or so have been a shitstorm, hence I haven't blogged, much of it is far too personal to blog and I didn't want to come off as whiny. But we'll just say that no part of my life has escaped the shitstorm. I've had friends going through really rough times, family members who are sick, problems with our car and our house, business at the bar AKA my main source of income has been slow, I've had some serious doubts about my writing career. You know how bad things happen in threes, well for me it's three times three. I'm sure I'll go more into depth at some point once I'm feeling up to it, but the last two weeks were just pure hell of wanting to give up on everything completely. However, I'm kind of a hopeless optimist so this week I decided to push forward despite all the crap. I'm motivated. More motivated than I have been in a couple of months, but when I sit down to write....

I do have this other idea. It's newer. I struggled with it for about a week, but then it seemed to start flowing. The thing is of course it will flow for me, it's the kind of book I'm most naturally drawn to writing: a contemporary, realistic, coming of age, girl dealing with a really rough time in her life story. I love writing these stories. I love reading these stories. So why did I stop and go back to the other, older idea? I have a few reasons. Some of them are good, some bad, some mixed.

1. The older idea has been stewing for longer. It feels like it has waited it's turn and it's time should be now. I love the idea, I just need the right story arc for it.

2. The older idea is different since it is either paranormal or realistic with a twist. I've written three realistic books. I feel like now is the time to challenge myself and try new things.

3. This is the "bad reason." As we all know the market is not good for realistic contemporary. This other idea is high concept, has a twist of paranormal/magical realism, may sell and be promoted better. I didn't come up with the idea because I was trying to find something marketable, but this just happens to be marketable.

So now, what do I do?

Keep stewing on the older idea til something clicks? I don't really like stewing. I know it is necessary, but it doesn't feel like I'm working. It feels like I'm wasting time and I already am beating myself up for July, my best writing month, being wasted. August is going to be the month of travel and preparing for teaching and for this sekrit freelance project. Maybe stewing is actually plotting and I just don't know how to do it and those of you who are more experienced with plotting can give me some pointers. So far my approach has been trying to make notes, trying to make a plot summary, trying to listen to music to inspire me, making more notes, trying to write a scene, bombarding my writer friends with emails about my ideas, reading.

Or do I write the newer idea even though I have all these doubts about it that it's not commercial enough or that it's just me writing the same sort of book again. Maybe if I work on it, the other book will click or maybe this one will take hold and it won't matter.

Is this what happens every time I start a book, but I just don't remember? Do I have a genius idea and have a hard time launching it? It seems to me that that isn't supposed to be how it works. Normally I write 50 pages or so before getting stuck for the first time. Is that how it works for most people or do others sit and stew on an idea for weeks and not worry that it's not coming together fast enough, just let themselves daydream and read and listen to music without any pressure? I'm really not sure I can do that. I'm kind of suffering here without putting words on a page, completing a scene or at least having really good ideas about what is going to happen.

So that's what's going on. I'm, motivated. I'm enthusiastic. I just don't seem to have a gut instinct about what book to choose to write and/or I've frozen up under the pressure. Advise me please.


Annika said...

Here's the thing about option 3: you are not a fast writer, so who knows which book will be considered marketable when it's being shopped! Not to mention that pretty much everyone is looking for good WRITING, not specific concepts.

My point it, write the book that comes easier. You will eventually write them both! So go ahead and write the newer idea first if it is coming together in your head faster.

PKJ said...

I think it makes a lot of sense to do a little world building first before writing certain kind of stories. If there is any kind of magic or fantasy it's good for you to know the rules ahead of time and may actually help with your plotting later on. Maybe you could write a little "tourists guide" to your world, as a native explaining it to a tourist. It might help lay some of the ground work. and yeah, I like the idea of giving the older idea a chance to shine and letting the new one simmer a bit. Just me though, you have to do what works for you, obviously.

marina said...

I'm going to keep my advise simple:
Write whichever book has the strongest voice in your head and pull towards your heart. The stronger the voice is, the easier (hopefully?) it should be to write. The other one will shout at you when it's time is ready. Just pause and listen.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks for all the advice guys. I think the problem is that they are both tugging at me right now, so I will probably just alternate back and forth until one speaks up louder than the other. I do just worry they overlap a bit so I'm afraid I might not get to write both, but that might just be me psyching myself out.

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