Posted by: oneyearbook | June 13, 2009

Strange tidings

Note: this is a very long post. If you like to skim things, save yourself some time and only read the bolded sections. You’ll get the gist.

So I promised a real update on the writing this weekend. I’ve been avoiding this – mulling it over – trying to decide what to say – how much of an explanation I owe, with regards to any writing decisions that I make, to my blog readership.

Stubborn Goat

Curious Goat says, what's up with your book?

I find it funny that I can be completely happy with a decision – ecstatic, even, really – for myself, but nervous as to its impact and import among my faceless crowd of readers. (I mean, some of you have faces, but there are still a lot of visits unaccounted for when I tally up my daily numbers.) Why should it matter? You’re all just coming along for the ride. I am composing this entry with a cup of Moroccan Mint green tea, chosen for its soothing qualities.

Anyway, to the meat of my announcement: after spending two months on the first draft of Instructions for Cheating at History, I have chosen to put it aside and begin work on the first draft of a new project.

Wow, it sounds terrible written out like that. Somebody in the audience just said, “What a quitter,” and blew a raspberry. C’mon, guys! Just wait! Hear me out!

This was not an easy decision, or a quick one, necessarily, although considering that less than a month has passed since I finished that draft, it may seem quick. I spent quite some time with that draft; I read it through, and then I edited it through three or four times, fixing up the obvious problems, trimming here and there, trying to see the bones of the story, trying to decide where to take it. I quashed my immediate feeling, after the first read, that it was dull, filled with boring characters, and lacked any sort of compelling energy. There were discussions with my sounding board (read: my boyfriend) about how to be re-energize myself and the story in order to move forward. I brainstormed some ideas to that end; most of them – all the good ones – essentially involved a blank page rewrite. I would put aside what I had and begin again, from the beginning, with a majorly altered plot arc, narrative voice, and thematic focus. I actually did write a few scenes with this new focus in mind. They were a’right, dawg, but just a’right.

If I had to choose one picture of mine to give an impression of my new manuscript, it would be this one

If I had to choose one picture of mine to give an impression of my new manuscript, it would be this one

But there are many plausible pasts in which I would have chosen to continue down that road. I’m not saying I couldn’t have written that book, couldn’t have made it worthwhile. Unfortunately, or fortunately (we’ll see), I had been, in the meantime, mentally hijacked. I re-read a scrap of something I had been working on about a year ago – a scrap with four or five scenes written, maybe 10 pages or so. My reason for doing so was that after my disappointment with the first draft of IFCAH, I was a little bit worried. Maybe I just can’t write. How can you tell, you know? If I myself disliked my own work that much, why keep going? But I did know that when I wrote this scrap, I had really liked it. Really liked it. And I read it again. And I really liked it.

Somewhat amusingly, it was actually this scrap of writing that had initially convinced me to begin working towards taking a year off to write. I had never thought of such a thing; but my boyfriend, noting that I had started this thing but couldn’t seem to work on it with the time pressures of a job, suggested that I move towards taking some real time for it. I agreed to do so. Somewhere along the way, in the months in which I did nothing with it and instead horded money, I lost the thread of the plot and couldn’t figure out where it would go. IFCAH introduced itself as an ‘easy’ answer, mainly because it had a pre-planned plot arc. (What it did not have, in retrospect, was a real character to attach that plot to. That, my friends, was a mistake.)

After the re-reading, I saw that I liked the very first scene, a number of the later ones, but not the ones that I had written to follow the first one. I scrapped those completely and began, idly, to type something else. And then something else.  I found that when I got up to go to work and write, I wasn’t working on IFCAH at all, but was working, with mad, feverish, 4000 word bursts, on this other project, which goes by the working title of The Bumper Crop. And then at the end of this week I found that I’d finished the first of four planned sections and was 21,000 words into what is intended to be no more than a 85,000 word novel.

Yeah, so, learning from past mistakes, I sat down and re-read that section. Going into the reading I already had ideas for things that needed to be edited, moved around, changed, characterizations that needed to be crystallized. Then I read the section. I loved it. Just the way it was. Sure, I know that I will edit it, and I still have lots of ideas of how to edit it. But dang if I didn’t want to keep reading it. Where’s the rest of this book, I thought to myself. What’s going to happen to these people?

Short summary, for the curious: it’s a coming-of-age novel set in a farming community that might best be described as a mash-up between the Saanich Peninsula and Saltspring Island. (Mostly the Peninsula, but a little more isolated, geographically, and without Sidney or an industrial area.) More than that I’ll keep for later updates.

Apologies to those that were attached to the previous storyline, or believed, due to my speedy completion of that draft, that I was further ahead in the process than I truly am. When I began this project, I had one goal, and I still do: I have one year, and I’m going to finish one book. The fact that the book itself has changed only means that the time I have is shortened by two months; and I’m choosing, optimistically, to look on those two months as a vicious crash course in how to (or not to) write a novel. Sometimes falling off is the only way to learn how to ride a horse.

Note: the winners of my two previous contests will be offered a chance at a page from the new first draft, if they choose. The current contest continues; your name, should you win, will be incorporated into the new storyline.



  1. Actually I’m more excited about the storyline of the new book. Guess it’s just up my alley…
    Give me a shout next week and we’ll work on a follow up for the PNR. People are always asking me about you and the book!

    • Perhaps I’ll drop in on Tuesday. I have a new mode of transportation to show you guys.

  2. I think when characters tug at our shirt-sleeves demanding to be written, we have to listen.

    Don’t think of it as abandoning the novel – but as letting it steep for a bit.

    Last bit of unsolicited backseat typing – witing begets writing. Be fruitful. Make pies. :o)

  3. It sounds like your first book served the same purpose for you that NaNoWriMo novels serve for other authors. You went through the motions, figured out the dos and don’ts, came out with something that you weren’t too thrilled about, but made the whole endeavor seem much more achievable.

    Good luck with the new one! Sounds much more exciting 🙂

  4. PS – you know I’m SO EXCITED you mentioned SSI as inspiration for your imagined setting.

    • We went to Saltspring last weekend – hmmm, I said I was going to blog about that trip and then I didn’t, whoops – and it was awesome. We went to the Farmer’s Market in Ganges, swimming in Cusheon Lake and bushwhacking about in the hills above Burgoyne Bay (source of the bad stinging nettle experience) and the Island was generally enjoyed by all six of us. Also I got some really really awesome tea in Ganges. I hadn’t been back to the Island since I stopped going to summer camp in ’98 so it was a triumphant return.
      I brought my camera but I didn’t take any pictures – too busy.

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