What My Novel Is About

There is a question that I get asked every time someone is told that I’m writing a novel. It is always, “What’s your novel about?”

I used to have very strong feelings about this question. Basically, I hated it.

I have been working on a novel of some kind since I was fourteen. I’m going to be thirty-two in a couple weeks. For a large chunk of that time, I suffered from social phobia. It was a dark, horrible place. Talking to people at all was a struggle, let alone trying to answer that question of horror.

The reality is that novels are complex beasts and since I’m always in process and never finished, it’s actually really difficult for me to summarize what I’m working on.

This is probably different for every writer, but for me, it’s practically impossible to tell you what my novel is about. It’s not because I don’t want to share it with you. It’s because I don’t actually know.

The trick is usually trying to figure out if the person I’m talking to is someone I can trust with the information that I don’t know what my own novel is about.

When I was young and terrified, nobody could be trusted with that information. I wouldn’t willingly hand it out. So what did I do? I usually tried to get away with saying what genre I was writing. “Oh, it’s a fantasy novel.” If that didn’t work, I tried to summarize. And I failed. And then I felt like an idiot. And then I probably resolved never to talk to that person again out of shame.

So I think you can see why I hated this question back then.

Nowadays, I’m not as scared of people or what they think, so I find in most cases I can go ahead and tell them that I don’t know what my novel is about. It’s actually the perfect mechanism to change the subject from what my book is about to how I write. Since the next obvious question is something like, “How can you not know?” or “Are you some kind of idiot?” Then I can answer, no, not exactly, I’m just a discovery writer. I find my story as I go along. See? Now we’re talking about my process and I no longer have to attempt to summarize the slush that is currently my novel.

loooove talking about my writing process. I could talk about that mess all day long.

And since I no longer hate and fear the dreaded question, I can instead appreciate the person who asked for being interested in my writing at all.

I find in most cases, gratitude can change your outlook on anything. Something I used to hate is now something I can be grateful for. I know that people who ask aren’t trying to make me feel anxious or stupid. I know that they simply want to get to know me. So instead of telling them what my story is about, I tell them why I don’t know what it’s about.

So if you ever ask me what my novel is about, you can be sure that I won’t give you a direct answer. Even if I had some kind of summary to provide, it would be meaningless. If you asked me the same question a week later, the entire summary would be different. This is how I work. My creative process is a mess. It works, but that means my story is also a mess and thus summary is impossible.

In conclusion, I am grateful to anyone who expresses genuine interest in my writing, no matter what questions they ask. Just remember that I’m dodgy and don’t be offended if I don’t actually attempt to summarize my novel for you. I’m still happy you asked about it.

Literary Mayhem

BA HA HA HA HA HA.

I AM BACK.

That’s how I feel right now, full of villainous laughter and the feeling that I’m back to being who I’ve always been. IT FEELS GREAT.

I seriously considered ending this blog post right here, but then I thought that would be kind of mean. Though “kind of mean” totally fits with my vibe right now.

Okay so let me start with this: it’s about writing. You should not be surprised. It’s always about writing. Okay, it’s almost always about writing. The next post is gonna be about not-writing, I promise.

ANYWAY.

In case you didn’t already know, I have been really strugglingwith my writing for the past forever. It had less to do with writing and more to do with my outlook… maybe go back a post and read about Sisyphus, then you’ll get what I mean.

Basically, trying to write filled me with agony and pain and suffering. Every word, every sentence, felt like a punishment. And so whatever I wrote was also really bad. Really bad and really sad and just not at all what it used to be like when I was young and joyous and free.

Now what do you think I mean when I say I AM BACK?

Normally I write a lot of blogs during NaNoWriMo, but this year I didn’t. There were a couple of reasons. Reason number one was that writing was still painful and I honestly didn’t think I’d do much of it. Reason number two was that the story I was writing was nothing but a single character. It has since evolved into a few different things, but I was starting with practically nothing. It had been a long timesince I had done such a thing – starting a story with nothing to go on but a character. So I figured that I wasn’t going to get far and there was no point in blogging a ton about my barely there NaNo efforts.

I was right. The goal? 50,000 words. My ending total? 13,033 words.

More than I was expecting, but nowhere near the actual goal.

So I think I made the right choice not blogging about NaNo this year.

Now that it’s over, though, I’m really liking where my story is going. So I decided to keep working on it.

I just finished writing a scene for this story. And the feeling I got when I had finished was the feeling that made me want to be a writer back when I first got serious about it sixteen years ago. I get a little shiver of excitement down my spine that makes me feel like an EVIL MASTERMIND OF AUTHORIAL MADNESS and all I want to do is Evil Laugh.

Thus the BA HA HA ing at the beginning.

Not only did the scene turn out better than I expected, but a connection I needed showed up quite nicely for me.

That one character I started with? Not in this scene. This one was about a completely different character that I had made up during NaNo because I was getting bored. Their stories didn’t collide in any way that I could see. But I wasn’t trying to make it all work. I was trying to just go along with whatever happened.

I still couldn’t help trying to figure out where their stories crossed, though. I thought about it occasionally, as I went about my normal days. I even thought I might have to separate the stories.

And then tonight, as I worked on a new scene for the second character, one word that I added on some kind of whimsical writerly inspiration connected the stories. One word was all it took. And that’s when I started feeling a bit like a VILLAINOUS MAD SCIENTIST.

It didn’t help that the word also kind of made this second character really dark.

This is a feeling I’ve had before. Back when writing wasn’t painful. Back when writing was more like experiments in a lab coat with a hunch backed flunky. Back when writing was like a dark cauldron bubbling over with neon goop. Back when all I wanted to do was be a Word Wizard that would Cast Spells of Fiction over all my Unwitting Readers.

I missed this feeling. It’s why I write. I thought I lost it forever, but it turns out I just had to dump my PAIN AND SUFFERING by being my own Word Wizard and not someone else’s idea of a Word Wizard.

I’m a discovery writer, folks. That’s the long and short of it. I don’t plan. I don’t create outlines. I can and I have and I tried to make myself do it. And I was miserable.

BUT NOW I AM BACK.

Maybe one day you’ll get to read my Spells of Fiction. I know some of you have been waiting a long time.

Fear not for I sense the day is nigh! My wizardly word fingers are tingling like they haven’t tingled in years! My villanous laugh is deeper and truer than it has ever been! Prepare for literary mayhem!

BA HA HA HA HA HA!

The Ghost of Failures Yet To Come

What? A new post two days in a row? Yeah, don’t get used to it. This is only happening because I split the Dead Blog Post in half. You know the one.

So I’m working on a story I’m calling Novel Z.

Now before I start up another dialogue with my imaginary blog reader, I actually already talked about this briefly on my Facebook page. And I’m not here to blog about what I’m calling my novel or which story it really is or whatever. Suffice it to say that I’m working on something called Novel Z, okay? Good.

I’m really here to tell you about all of my failures that have yet to happen. You see, I recently had a sort of epiphany about myself. I came to the realization that I have never finished a novel (apart from the one I wrote when I was 14) because I always use getting stuck on the plot as an excuse to quit before anybody reads it.

It all began when I was getting frustrated with the plot of Novel Z before I even started writing anything. I felt like all my ideas were trash and nothing I came up with was any good, especially when it came down to the magic system I was trying to create. So I did a Google search along the lines of “how to write magic systems”. This brought me to Brandon Sanderson’s website, which outlines his three laws of magic systems. From there I somehow found a link to a set of Youtube videos – recordings of the lectures he gave for a fantasy writing class at BYU. Since I’m a fan of Mr. Sanderson’s work, I decided to listen to all of the lectures.

One of the things that really struck me was how he talked about both discovery writing and outlining. For those who might not be aware, I lean pretty heavily on the discovery writer side of things. Lately, I had decided that was why I never finished anything. So I have attempted to become an outliner. As I listened to the lectures, I started to question whether or not that was really my problem. Brandon Sanderson talked about both methods as though it was understood by all that either way works. He would explain how discovery writers might do things differently than outliners when it came down to certain aspects of novel writing, but he never said one way was better than the other. If that’s the case, then what’s my problem? I asked myself.

The truth hit me like a bolt of lightning last weekend while I was actually thinking about my story and how I write.

I use my tendency to discovery write as an excuse to quit.

I would always get stuck somewhere in the story because I hadn’t planned it out ahead of time. That always happens when you discovery write. But instead of working through it and figuring it out (which I could certainly do), I would just give up. Oh, I would say stuff about how I was working on it, but really it would just be sitting in an unopened file for months at a time. Then I’d eventually get antsy about not writing, but when I went back to it, none of it made sense. So I would start over completely.

Why would I do this to myself?

Easy. I do this to myself because I am scared shitless.

I have been so afraid of finishing a book, I’ve been subconsciously sabotaging myself.

I mean, think about it. What would happen if I actually finished a manuscript? My family & friends would want to read it. Then I would probably send it to agents, hoping someone will pick it up and try to sell it to a publisher.

What if my family & friends hate it? What if no agent thinks it’s worth anything? In other words, what if I fail completely at the one thing that I not only love but claim to be good at? The one thing that everybody knows is my thing, my passion?

I hear you thinking out there. You’re thinking, get over it, you big baby, everybody gets rejected. Just try again!

It isn’t that easy. Writing a novel is a lot of work. Work that I love, yes, but that’s an investment of not just time and energy, but bits of my soul, too. I put myself in my novels whether I mean to or not. To have someone reject a piece of your soul… it’s something I’m sure writers get used to (probably all artists do). But I haven’t been rejected yet, not counting the seven rejection letters I got for that novel I wrote when I was 14. (Most of them just said they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts – I was attempting to skip the whole agent thing.)

And they say the first cut is the deepest.

And by “they” I mean Rod Stewart.

My point is that my own fear is what has been holding me back, not my process. Brandon Sanderson actually talks about this in the last lecture of the series. Every writer has that feeling that any moment someone is going to realize that they are a complete hack. Apparently, that feeling never goes away.

Okay, so now what? I know I’m a big scaredy-cat, my fear of everyone discovering how awful I am will never go away, and I still want to write novels that might maybe get published one day. What do I do about it?

I know from personal experience (unrelated to writing) that the only way to overcome a fear is to face it. In this case, I have to finish my book. I have to give myself a reality check when I inevitably get to that moment of crisis in my first draft. Then I have to get past it and actually finish it. If it gets rejected, I will try again. And I will be able to say, look, I wrote this thing and here’s what I learned from it.

That’s really the only option there is.

And anyway, once I become a super famous best selling author, that original rejected manuscript will be worth billions on eBay.