An Interrogation

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m finally making headway on several works in progress. I’ve gotten feedback on a screenplay, but I’ve decided to put that project on the back burner until I finish the draft of my newest novel. The midway point is as good a time as any to take stock of what I’ve written so far, and I’m happy to report that so far, so good.

This is my fourth foray into novel-writing and with each project I’ve learned something new about my writing process. It’s true that you have to push through the noise and nonsense in order to find the magic and mystery within the pages. Some of the junk is erased with editing, but some problems can be fixed by learning what questions to ask of the manuscript.

When I wrote my first novel, the predominant question was, can I do it? Do I have the mental stamina to finish writing a 300-page book? The answer, happily, was yes, but after I finished, I realized that the part of the book that drew me to the writing (my “darlings”) wasn’t the same part that needed to be improved, edited, and redrafted to become the novel it could be. The book as it was could only be salvaged by erasing half of it and starting over.

My favorite part, however, made a good short story, so I excerpted and self-published (under a pseudonym) a heavily revised version in the collection Three Gothic Tales. When I finally return to that original draft, the story won’t be there, nor will most of what I’ve already written. But I’ve built the skeleton, and now have the confidence I need to start fleshing it out anew.

A similar discovery happened with my second novel-draft. I had a crazy dream and decided to follow it to its logical conclusion, a la Stephen King. When I was done, I realized I had written a 80K word novella. What a mess. By that time, I thought I had the stamina to revise it. I was wrong. It’s still on my hard drive, or rather the 15K word plot outline. Every now and then I pull it up to try to fix it and every time I get frustrated. I haven’t found the core of what I need to say. The main question I keep returning to is, what is this thing? I’m still not sure I know the answer.

But I do know that what I’m writing right now is a novel. I’ve learned a thing or two about outlining, so I think I have an idea of where it’s going. The question I ask myself now is not “how” or “what,” it’s “who”: Who will want to read this when it’s done? If I was writing for myself before, for whom should I write this new, shiny, fun book? Is it for business travelers on an airplane? Retirees at home? Reading groups?

Although I don’t know yet, I have a feeling the answer will help shape the book into what it needs to be. For now, I’ll just keep writing.