We approach November. It hurtles toward us from the future, bringing the cacophony of many fingers on keyboards. (In my case not as much as a cacophony as it might have been, as I trimmed my finger nails from the summer stilettos I had been sporting. Still, I feel it is safe to assume the global volume of fingers stabbing keys is louder during National Novel Writing Month.)
I am filled with anxious excitement. My NaNoWriMo winner shirt is pre-ordered. My USB Bracelet is waiting for pick-up at my post office box. A shiny new Scrivener file is sitting with a blank space for my outline.
As I am hacking away at an existing manuscript, I will begin by outlining my existing draft. Then I will rub soap on it and hold it under water to see where the leaks are. A kind friend has already pointed out several, and we’ve talked about the best ways to patch them. But I know there are more. If I tried to paddle out on this manuscript, I would hear the bubble and whine of tiny holes conspiring to sink me.
Outlining and re-outlining is not my obstacle.
I am my obstacle.
I think this is true of any creative person. The thing standing between me and my finished novel, and that Send button, is me. I keep re-working. I nibble at my paragraphs, thinking I am a helpful remora removing algae, barnacles, and parasites. I realize instead that I am really a piranha, leaving the draft less and less complete with each feeding. We sink faster.
Part of my problem is proximity to the story. I know all the details. I know what, I know why. I know who, how, where, what flavor. I know things about all my characters they do not know themselves.
I also know things that my readers do not know, because I have not told them. But I forget I have not told them. Or I think I’ve told them, but I’ve only hinted that there is something they need to be told. This is not a nice thing to do to readers.
My very good friend-slash-editor recently commented that my story is a mystery novel. What a revelation for me! I had never considered that I was unraveling the story in such a way that it felt like anything from the mystery genre. I thought I was revealing the story, in a theatrical manner, to create interest via tension.
But it’s true, I spread out my information like buoys and I now realize that, in many cases, they are too few and far between for a reader (who is not me) to stay on course. I say, “but you can navigate by the stars!” and my frieditor says, “it is a cloudy night!”
Saying I need a Watson is true in more ways than one, for my story is the difficult and drug-filled Holmes that makes giant leaps of intuition and observation of things that the reader cannot see.
Except my draft, to-date, had very little Watson to explain all these things to. Which means all the supposed brilliance of my book exists somewhere between my head and the page.
People who have graciously served as sounding boards, as I talked out my plot points, know a few of these Holmes-ian details. But those who have read the story “fresh” are at a disadvantage, and that is entirely on me.
Armed with this knowledge, I have decided to start Draft the Fifth with a blank page. This way, clearly, I know what I have told my audience. If I have not written it, they do not know it. When I begin the outline for this version (as enough has changed to warrant a new outline even if the overall arc of the plot has not changed) I will include notes for each scene as ‘What does the reader need to know here?’ and ‘Do they already know it? (if so, show me where I said it).’ The second question will be filled in as I write the new draft (and revisited if I decide to merge this with the previous draft). I hope this will keep me outside my own head for this process, without a life vest, just like my audience.
Today is the fifteenth of October, gracing me with the dwindling second half of the month in which to prepare myself with this process. All I need to do is sit down and outline this story with the above points in mind. This is, for me, a three day process. And that includes ‘sleeping on it’ in between.
But the secret to victory here, is to do it. I regularly oversleep. I regularly put projects for other people first. I regularly think, “Now’s not really a good time, I’ll try again tomorrow…”
This is the road to failure. I need to pick myself up by my winged shoes and make this story a priority. No more Madam Nice Lady. Not nice to people who want my (pro bono) help. Not nice to me who wants to sleep in past my third alarm.
Take responsibility. Get up. Get in the chair. Get typing. Get it done.
Just. Do. It.