Sink…Swim…Start Over

I’m writing. I’ve done my character research and worldbuilding and checked off those boxes on my captain’s log. Prepping my stores to sail on this writing adventure is full of forgotten joy. Sussing up previously unknown character motivations, inundating myself in photos of my fictional location. It may not be dialogue on the page, but folks, I’m armed with scissors and glue and paper and an MBTI quiz and I am being an author. 

And then I start scribbling down notes and lines and plot points and I smile to myself and turn up Imagine Dragons and think that this must be what it’s like to write. My thumbtacks are sharp, my notecards white and empty, and I am ready to do this!

So I sit down at my laptop and reintroduce myself to Scrivener and launch off on this ship to the great unknown. I’m a few thousand words in and…my ship is leaking. There’s a million tiny cracks, and I can’t find my wash bucket to start bailing. I don’t want to jump ship, but there’s a thunderstorm brewing, the horizon is endless, my sail is in shreds…why am I here, exactly?

I know it’s a first draft. It’s going to have cracks that you patch with red marker and sticky notes (FIX THIS NEXT TIME), but sometimes your first draft…sinks. It doesn’t just flounder into the harbor; no, it heads straight to Davy Jones’ Locker.

And while I’m clinging to the flotsam of my outline, I’m wondering what went wrong? I had colored paper clips and bullet points! My outline actually existed! My characters were fabulous, and I’d just launched them onto this journey that I’ve been planning for five years. What was wrong?

In my case, this was my second time launching off on this route. My first draft made it to The End, but was too battered and crushed to try repairing. It needed a total overhaul. So I filched the sails and the anchor and headed towards another ship, the good vessel REWRITE.

Except every ship needs a few basic things, just like every story. I had my Who: a girl, suitably complicated, at least in her character profile. What: an epic journey and a terrible band of rogues. When: a time and era of my own choosing, ending in a predictably gold and red sunset. Where: the great high seas…or a foreign country. My How: the aforementioned vessel, which I was hoping would fare better than my first doomed craft (the SERENDIPITY). Why was I not seaworthy?

Ah, the talk around the docks. Everyone asks the necessary niceties above, but a few reminded me of the one I was missing. Why?

I had every ingredient for an epic story, but I was pushing out on my own without motivation to give me fortitude and hold this leaky ship together. I knew where I was blowing, and I still had my old anchor, but I had no reason to set sail. Neither did my character. Why would she launch on this journey? What could possible rattle her from the comfortable confines of her Chapter 1 locale? The choices and confrontations could not be sustained off a spur-of-the-moment decision. When the swells are over your head and there is no sun on the horizon, you’d better have a good reason for being on the boat.

So, back to harbor. Let that battered sail dry out; patch it up, it’ll fly another day.  Go ahead, paint the decks, find out what provisions you’ll need for this particular route. Dress appropriately for the culture you will enter. Buy a new hat, colored pens, and about three dozen notebooks.

Then sit down with your character. Ask her why. Keep an eye out for the squalls that will test you, or the ones that will drive you out to sea. Are they to blame for why you’re in the middle of the ocean? It’s one thing to be you vs. a thunderstorm; you’ll survive that trip. It’s quite a different story when it is you vs. your own flimsy motivations.

So now I’m off for another trip, folks.  I’ll tip my hat and remember why my character and I are setting off on this epicness. I’ve smashed the bottle and rechristened the ship. Let’s see how far the SECOND WIND takes me.

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3 comments on “Sink…Swim…Start Over

  1. […] still stuck refining and mangling this first half of the book out, since I’m finding myself running into the same traps as the original draft. Improving the characters and eliminating the extraneous ones is only half the problem. The 2500 […]

  2. This is a great post. Love the sailing metaphor throughout. From someone who has revised in the form of scrapping GIANT chunks of work (30,000 words once), I feel you. I hope you stop running into the problem of why.

    • Rae says:

      I cannot imagine what it’d be like to scrap that much! I guess I am doing that, with this rewrite, but I haven’t thought of it that way to avoid discouraging myself too much. It’s good to know I’m not in this boat alone! 🙂

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