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  • J.H. Fleming

Figuring Out This Writing Thing

Updated: Dec 9, 2019


As a writer, or any sort of artist, sometimes it's necessary to take a step back and regroup. It's easy to get so absorbed in the details of a novel that the overall picture is lost, or at least hazy. Sometimes this is no big deal, but other times it can derail a novel completely. It depends on the sort of writer (or artist) you are, and what your current project demands of you. When it happens it can be a little disheartening, but it doesn't have to be the end of your career, or the end of the book entirely.

Last year I began a few different novels around the same time. I was in the midst of working on the final draft of my novel Jack of Crows, but I was itching to work on something new. If you're a writer, or any other type of artist, then it's no surprise to you that I have numerous ideas, just waiting to be written. It's only a matter of which one is screaming the loudest, demanding to be written NOW.

On one of the novels I only wrote a couple hundred words. Not that I didn't want to write it, because I absolutely did, and still do. But I had a strong sense of responsibility to what I was already working on, and didn't like the idea of having too many projects going at one time. Even starting it was an indulgence that I don't allow myself often.

The other one I started was the one I had scheduled for myself to work on next. As soon as I finished the last draft of Jack of Crows, I put all my efforts on the new novel, whose name has changed many times and still isn't set in stone. At the moment, I jokingly call it Clusterfuck, which I'll explain more below.

When I began the novel, I had a pretty good idea of what would happen. But, as often happens when working on a creative project, the book took on a life of its own. Some ideas that had seemed so good starting off lost their appeal, and new ideas came to the fore. Once I had written about 40,000 words (the halfway point), I realized that in order to incorporate all the new ideas I wanted to explore, I would need to start over. So, dragging my feet a little, but with high hopes, I went back to the beginning, backtracking over all the ground I had already covered.

I continued for another few weeks, maybe as long as a month. Then my ideas began to change again, and it seemed for every few steps I took forward, I took several leaps back. Eventually I threw my hands up, frustrated, and knew I'd have to spend more time brainstorming to really iron out where I wanted the book to go. At that point I had cut out two main characters, changed the beginning a few times, changed the plot several times, added the two characters back in, and completed restructured and rearranged the chapters I had already written. What probably initiated the downfall was when I tried writing scenes out of order, working on whatever drew my interest that day. By the end, it seemed more like a mess of random scenes than anything cohesive. Thus the title Clusterfuck, bestowed lovingly, but in a mood of frustration.

Eventually I put it aside completely and focused on other books. I felt like I needed to try something else for a while, and actually finish this time to convince myself I was still a real writer. I wrote a book my publisher requested, which I can't reveal at the moment (but it involves witches). I wrote the sequel to my faery book, which will be called The Queen of Blood and Madness. Then I finished my blog series, which started as a short story and turned into a novel, which is called The Land of Monsters. I completed the edits for my first faery book, The Queen of Moon and Shadow, and plotted the third in the series, The Queen of Thorn and Ivy. Then I jumped into another new book, tentatively called The Forest Guardian.

When I started, as happens with any new project, I was propelled forward by excitement. I set what I considered a reasonable goal, and I focused on getting my word count every day. Then, as sometimes happens, other stories teased my mind, whispering that I would enjoy writing them more than what I was already working on. And you know what? They're right. They're always right. Starting something new is always more exciting than slogging through the middle of a book that makes you want to pull your hair out. Especially if you're in the middle, which is always the roughest. But though that's true, it doesn't mean that you should listen to those voices.

Sometimes abandoning a book is a good idea, either because you feel that you're not quite ready as a writer to tackle it, or because it may require more time than you're willing to spend on it at the moment because of the depth and scope of the world you're creating. But it's important to know when that's the case, and when you're just looking for an easy way out.

Abandoning The Forest Guardian did not cross my mind, though if it did I would weigh the pros and cons and go from there. But what did cross my mind was taking a step back and looking at the plot as a whole. I had gotten to the point where I wasn't completely happy with where the book was going, so to breathe life into it again, I decided to examine the overall plot to figure out what was working and what didn't. (Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but this happened right around the 40,000 word mark). Like what happened with Clusterfuck, I decided several things needed to change.

And in order to make those changes, I had to go back to the beginning.

This time when I restarted, I did so with more dread, remembering what happened the last time I did this. What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I just finish the book and worry about making changes in later drafts? I didn't have the answers to these questions. I just knew I couldn't continue with the book as it was. If I tried, I would hate it and eventually abandon it the way I had Clusterfuck. Already I'd had yet another novel idea and had even started the first scene, and if I gave into my impulses I would jump into another project and repeat the process all over again. I was determined to not repeat the past.

So I restarted the book, adding new characters and changing the roles of some of the existing ones. And so far, it's going well. I'm excited about the book again, and I'm more satisfied with where it's going. But always the fate of Clusterfuck is in my mind, warning me to be careful, to watch what I'm doing, to always keep the end goal in mind.

There's no one way to write a book, but I've certainly discovered what doesn't work for me. Writing scenes out of order doesn't work for me. Restarting the book several times doesn't work for me. Keeping an inconsistent writing schedule doesn't work for me.

With that in mind, I forge ahead in The Forest Guardian, still hopeful that restarting it this one time will be just what I need to finish it and move on.

As a writer, I feel it's important to try different things, to be willing to experiment. Just as every writer is different, so, too, is every book, even those by the same author. The important thing is to evaluate whether or not the experiment works for you, then keep moving. Don't lose your momentum. Guard your writing time like a fierce dragon guarding its hoard.

It may be stressful, but in the long run, it'll pay off. Of that I have no doubt.

Just to be clear, I didn't completely abandon Clusterfuck. It's on my list of upcoming projects. I just had to step away from it for a while, which sometimes is just what a story needs.

#writerslife

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