via Daily Prompt: Adrift

So, here I am, two years after publishing my first novel To Each Her Own, finally sitting down to write a blog post. I’m glad I saw this prompt, “Adrift,” from WordPress because that word sums up exactly the way I’ve been feeling lately as a writer.

This month, May, marks a year that I’ve written a minimum of 500 words every single day but, most days, a lot more. In the last year, I wrote a trilogy about a hero with telekinesis, and, once I entered the editing phase of that after finishing my first draft, I “pantsed” a book about a burnt-out piano player. “Pantsing” is writer jargon for just sitting down with a story idea and nothing more, no plot outlines. Just a vague idea of a storyline in your head and off you go.

Pantsing used to be my method. Every story I ever wrote up until I started my trilogy was done by pantsing. Yes, I would write a summary of my story idea, but I never stuck with it. My characters always had other ideas, and I just let them take me where they wanted to go.

With my trilogy, though, I wanted it to have a tight plot and good pacing. I didn’t want to ramble or repeat things, as I’ve been told I sometimes do by readers. So I took a week to sit down and really think about the plot and used methods I’d gleaned in my writers’ association to plot out every single scene for three books.

As a result, I wrote the trilogy in six months–three full books, around 240,000 words. Of course, that was the crappy first draft, but I was confident the editing process would go quickly, as I normally love to go back through, see what I’ve written, and tweak it.

Boy was I wrong. The editing process has been difficult, to say the least. Several weeks ago, around Easter, I got the analysis back from my editor on my first book, which I naively thought I was almost done with, and was told to cut two chapters, completely change a main point of my book that bleeds into the second book (and would require rewriting the second book), and that the end was abrupt and unclear.

My first instinct was not to listen to her and to question how closely she had read my manuscript. After stepping away and coming back to her critique, though, plus reading through the parts of my story she said were unclear or needed cutting, I realized she was absolutely right on every point, that she actually had read my manuscript closely after all.

About this same time, my awesome critique partner, whose judgment I have come to rely on as gospel because she has terrific common sense, is smart as a whip, and is a stellar plotter, told me that I had gone a direction toward the end of book two in my trilogy that didn’t make sense and seemed to have come out of nowhere. I knew she was right. I had felt it in my bones, but after writing for several years now, I also knew that sometimes, when I felt my writing was crap, other people actually liked it and thought it was good. I was hoping that was the case with this element of my story, but, alas, it wasn’t so. While the words were painful to hear, I am forever grateful to my critique partner for having the guts to be honest with me. My book will be better because of it.

During all of this, I also went to a writing seminar with some friends who are traditionally published, and they blew me away with their professionalism and their ability to brainstorm with each other and plot. While that trip was enlightening, it also made me feel as though I didn’t really know squat about writing.

All these things combined to make me feel adrift as a writer. Yes, I continued to write my words every day to stay in the habit, but I felt like everything coming out of my fingers onto the keyboard was banal, aimless dreck. It was as if my fingers were deciding what to write, and my fingers don’t have a brain.

It was a terrible feeling. I like everything I’m doing to move me toward my goals, but I felt I had lost my mojo. I had honestly never felt that way, ever–at least not about writing. All that time I took to plot my trilogy hadn’t done any good. I was still going to have to rewrite and revise a bunch of it.

Meanwhile, the novel I had written just for fun (80,000 words worth) about the piano player was a meandering mess, and I had done that by pantsing. I felt like it didn’t matter which route I took, pantsing or plotting, I couldn’t write a good story. It was a terrible feeling, and I felt like quitting. To stave this off, I tried to develop other ideas, but, although I had no problem coming up with four very good ones, I couldn’t come up with decent plotlines for them.

The good news is that recently I sat down and came up with an alternate ending for book two of my trilogy which will hopefully get things back on the right track. Also, I’ve put enough distance between myself and the realization that the first book needs a lot of revision that I’m ready to get back in the saddle and deal with that, too.

Most important of all, though, I never stopped writing. I got up and wrote my word minimum every single day. It wasn’t always a story. Sometimes I just brainstormed ideas or wrote the beginning of a short story I knew no one was ever gong to read. It was just for myself. Today it’s writing this long-overdue blog.

I realize now (wow, I’m using that word a lot) that I’m not as adrift as I thought. Writing is my anchor.  No matter what comes in the future, as long as I don’t stop, I’m not adrift. I’m always learning, always improving. I am soaring.

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