On Writing my Second Novel

draft1complete

2015 was supposed to be the year of the novella. I had planned on writing three of them, spending about three months on each, until I had enough for a self-publishable collection. I started and finished Amp, and then moved onto The Grimoire Library.

My original plans for The Grimoire Library were to write a 100-page horror story about an angry, bullied kid who accidentally learns magic and basically uses his new powers to “shoot up” his school. It was going to be dark as hell, darker than anything I’ve ever written, and it was going to have a nasty, uncomfortable ending.

Yeah, that plan went out the window around page two. Now 104 days later, I’m sitting on my second novel and going, “Wow. How the hell did that happen?”

Norbert Krickman was supposed to be angry and bitter, but he never turned out that way. Instead, he’s just lonely and depressed—clinically, as it turns out—seeking not revenge but simple normalcy. He feels trapped in a never-ending cycle and only wants to break free, though he’s not quite sure what that means. When his new medication sends his mind into a library filled with spellbooks every night, he doesn’t become captivated by power but by how dangerous the place really is. It isn’t an escape but a new kind of being stuck.

As his medication begins to work and make him feel happier in the living world, the library gets worse and worse in the dream world. It’s your typical, “stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

When it comes to story ideas, I can usually tell you where I got them. I recall the exact moment the monster in Amp came to me, and that fact extends to almost all of my other ideas, many of which I haven’t begun yet. The Grimoire Library is the exception. I’ve been sitting on the story for quite awhile, at least two years, but I have no idea where it came from.

This really bothers me, though I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s not important. It’s not like I followed the original plan.

What is important is how excruciatingly difficult it was to write. This was akin to pulling teeth. I can think of a handful of possible reasons for this:

  • I’ve never written anything big like this during the summer
  • I’ve never written anything big like this set in the present, real-world Earth
  • I’ve never planned (or tried to plan) multiple steps in advance
  • I started writing a week after finishing Amp and was still stuck in EDITOR MODE
  • I didn’t have the luxury of being between jobs, meaning I had to really balance this with work
  • It wasn’t my first novel

Some of these might be excuses, but not all of them are. When I was writing The Ninth Life, I really never stressed over the plot; I just wrote. For The Grimoire Library, I had to do some research and make sure everything made sense within the confines of Earth, and that meant planning ahead. Planning ahead, as it turns out, meant obsessing over my story during the day to the point of not wanting to work on it at night.

I am not one to write with outlines. I find it much more fun to just let a story go where it wants to go, but with this one, I really couldn’t do that. Instead, I’d write half a scene on Monday, spend most of Tuesday thinking about the next three scenes, and then have to write the second half of Monday’s scene. That was depressing, but more than that, it felt impossible. Everything is perfect in your head and garbage on paper, and damn did great swaths of this novel take place in my head long before ever reaching the page.

I began to stress over everything, be they small things like word choice or big things like micromanaging my characters too much. I was afraid I was controlling everyone and not the other way around, yet when I think back on that now, I realize it wasn’t ever the case. Had I been controlling this story, it would have been what I had originally intended.

Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time, well, damn. It didn’t help that there were days where I’d sit down to write only to read what I had written the previous day and hate it so much that I’d scrap it and start completely over. I never had to do that with The Ninth Life.

By around page 30 I was beginning to think The Grimoire Library wouldn’t be a novella, and perhaps it was around then that I started wondering if the whole package was turning to shit.

It takes a strong person to look at a project and go, “this isn’t working. I should stop.” I am not a strong person. I am also a very, very stubborn person.

For 104 straight days I sat down and wrote, and for at least half of those days, I wasn’t sure if it was even worth the effort. I wanted to finish because I felt like I had to. At page 250 I actually almost deleted the entire thing. I had spent two hours on what amounted to three paragraphs and just couldn’t do it anymore. I’ve never been so damn frustrated during the writing process before.

I got up, did something else, and when I came back I hammered out four pages in maybe an hour. I didn’t love them, but I didn’t hate them, and that turned out to be enough of a reason to continue.

It was also around then that someone I met online said, “You know, it’s okay to write a bad novel. No one will hate you for it, and you’ll be happy it’s done.” Funnily enough, I had given myself that exact permission when writing The Ninth Life and hadn’t thought I needed to with this one. I finished one novel and it turned out great! I could repeat that without problems.

Ha! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

I’m an idiot.

But it worked. I shrugged and said, “You’re right,” because that person was, and the writing process got fun again. There were still days when it was hard, but it was at least enjoyable, less like pulling teeth and more like solving a difficult puzzle.

At the end of the day, I’m happy that I finished The Grimoire Library, and at the end of the day, I’m less afraid that it’s a shit novel. It’s got some big problems, but so did The Ninth Life. The difference there is I never realized what problems The Ninth Life had until I went back to it months later.

The good news is that I believe all of the problems with this novel are fixable. It’ll take a lot of work, but I’ll manage. At its core, this is a good story.

When I write a novel, my custom (well, thus far) is, before writing “THE END”, to go back and reread/edit the first 50 pages. The thought process there is that my writing style probably drifted a bit, meaning the first chunk needs to be updated to match. It has to feel like a cohesive product.

When I did this with The Ninth Life, I realized that my first 50 pages were awful. Downright awful. I cut probably 10 whole pages out of the first 50 because they were overwritten and filled with just the worst sentences I could somehow write. It was terrible.

When I did this with The Grimoire Library¸ I was pleasantly surprised with how it started. I had feared the pacing would be awful, that the writing style wouldn’t work, but honestly, both are fine. It almost moves too quickly instead of the other way around.

I don’t hate it.

I’m going to finish this little post with two things. First, I’m sorry it’s a mess. I’m tired and I need a break, but this blurb was my gift to me for finishing. It means draft one is officially complete. Second, holy shit, I never would have thought I’d have two novels written before I turned 30, let alone 27. Novel writing felt like a, “in my 30’s” endeavor. I wanted to practice more, to figure my life out first, but yeah. That didn’t happen.

That’s a good thing though. Writing novels is fun, and I’m glad I figured that out now and not later.

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