I’ve been struggling with my second novel, The Adventures of Infinity and Negativa, for the past five years. Along the way, I’ve experienced some powerful insights.
The first came when I concluded that I didn’t have the means to pay a graphic artist. My solution? Paint the beginning of each chapter, which always began with the title characters, exploring some mathematical-logical or physics topic.
The second insight occurred a few weeks after the first. Like a woman taking the longest time to birth her first child, the first canvas took the longest to complete. As a work around to my sense of perfectionism, which had prolonged its completion, I reasoned that the main character, Nuru, was the artist rather than me. This distancing silenced my inner critic and added another dimension to Nuru.
The third insight woke me up one Saturday morning. Since my first novel, Tribe of One, had romantic elements, I’d self-identified as a romance writer. I’d even joined both the national and local chapter of THE romance writers’ group. This particular morning, I realized Adventures was not a romance. I had a clear vision of exactly which changes needed to be made in order to advance the narrative. This insight led to the first major “slashing” (too brutal to be called a mere “editing”) of the manuscript. Although I stopped self-identifying as a romance writer, I continued my membership with the national group since I enjoyed the informative articles in their monthly magazine about craft and the publishing industry.
The fourth insight ushered in the second major slashing where nearly all the minor characters were eliminated. Not only that, all the fabulous dialogue, transitions and descriptions, which were no longer relevant all bit the dust. Stripped to the bones, the manuscript had quicker pace, but little richness. At least I added the true antagonist, Lauren/Lolli.
The fifth insight stopped me from painting. I’d been completing canvas after canvas at a pretty good clip up until I painted myself into a corner. The problem was, each successive painting looked markedly better than the last; so I couldn’t reorder the opening of the chapters since that would cause me to reorder the paintings. With the first fourteen chapter openings set on canvas, I could only tighten up that writing although I could completely change the rest of the chapter, which I did with total abandonment.
The sixth insight guided the rearrangement of chapters fifteen through twenty-two. At some point in my writing career, I’ll learn how to outline a novel. Until then, I’ll continue writing by the seat of my pants, acknowledging that the occasional major chapter shuffle must take place.
The seventh and latest insight occurred at a recent writers’ workshop. The workshop explored feminism in fairy tales. Our facilitator introduced the topic by giving us a brief background about fairy tale structure. I went pie-eyed. I stopped myself from jumping up and shouting “Eureka!” What a profound revelation for me. The discovery that I write adult fairy tales. Even Tribe had elements of a fairy tale.
The facilitator suggested a short reading list, which I added to my never-ending book list. Then, I did online research and discovered a 31 fairy tale structure checklist. Adventures satisfied nearly all of them. At the end of that blog post, the author had a bibliography, which rounded out my fairy tale reading list.
One good thing I have going for me is my nonbelief in “writers’ block.” Every time my writing productivity wanes, an experience which some writers attribute to the dreaded “block,” I see it as the result of stubbornly writing along without analyzing if what I’ve written advances the narrative with integrity. Each flash of insight has dutifully reported after I’d honestly asked myself, “Where am I going with this?”
To regain direction, I resort to the same ritual. I hit “caps lock,” select “bold” and type all my think-out-loud thoughts about the characters and plot. Without any judgment and barely any punctuation, I work through what needs to be done. Sometimes, it’s chapter rearrangement. Other times, rethinking of the plot or a listing of things that need to be researched. I consider it writing mediation, bringing out the best in the narrative and advance it to a close–or at least close enough to make it worth my while to pay for a professional editor.