Pep Talk Week 2: When Your Novel Talks Back

Author pic bwBefore I won my first novel-in-a-month challenge, I had been writing novels for at least 10 years.  Or, perhaps, almost writing them would be a better way to put it.  I would start them and somewhere between the 1/3 and the 1/2 way mark, I would suddenly become gripped with the conviction that this was a terrible story.  No one would want to read it, I should delete it and burn all my notes so that no one could every associate such a sophomoric, poorly written story with me.

And then one year, I won a novel-in-a-month challenge by doing one simple thing.

Okay, two simple things really.

  1. I refused to read anything I’d written except for perhaps a paragraph or two to get me going again.
  2. I refused to stop.

Both are easier said than done. The temptation to peek is insane! But don’t.  Nothing will kill your story faster than reading it right now.  So don’t do it!

And then, refuse to stop.  Because chances are sometime this week, your story is going to get all self-conscious and it’s going to start talking to you.

In the middle of week two that fateful November when I finally wrote a novel I could finish, I distinctly remember having this conversation multiple times with my novel.

Novel: “You should stop writing, I don’t think I’m a very good book.”

Me: “Shush. You’re doing just fine.”

Novel: “No, really, I know what I’m talking about, I don’t feel good about myself.  This story is dry, it’s not going anywhere, and that last bit of dialogue… whew! I don’t even know where to start!”

Me: “Be quiet all ready, I’m trying to write.”

Novel: “You’re wasting your time! I’m like the worst thing ever written!”

Me: “You really shouldn’t run yourself down all the time, you know.”

Novel: “I know, but I’m just really depressed.  I don’t have a good start, I’ve got way too much weight around my middle, and I don’t think I like where you’re taking me.”

Me: “Novel, stop it. You’re a shitty first draft, that’s all you’re supposed to be, and you’re doing a marvelous job at it.  So shush now and let me work.  We’re going to be just fine.”

And then my novel settled down and discovered that there was something, after all, worth living for and we battled through to the middle of week three where things start looking better.

(Note: see quote on the “shitty first draft” from Anne Lamott).

So walk away for a day if you have to, but don’t give in and whatever you do, don’t stop writing!

4 thoughts on “Pep Talk Week 2: When Your Novel Talks Back

  1. Joan Albright

    I disagree on one point. I find that I have to read back about half a chapter after taking a break, in order to get my brain back into the story. When I try to save time by going back only a little bit, I end up losing time getting back in character.

    During an actual writing session though, the only looking back I do is to remind myself of names I made up during the draft, which aren’t in my notes, and to get the exact wording of a previous line of dialogue.

    Reply
    1. Profile photo of A.E. Howard (Anna)

      Well, whatever works for you 😉 all of us have different styles. Most err on the side of reading back too much and then the editor starts talking, but if you need to read more and can do that without pulling your editor in, then go for it!

      Reply
  2. Profile photo of Kit Grindstaff

    Joan, I’m with you on the re-reading to rid my head of real-life muck and get back into the (more fun!) world I’m writing.

    My MO though is that I keep coming across plot inconsistencies which need fixing on earlier pages. I could make a note to come back to them later and plow on, but I often find the changes I make open up another story strand I hadn’t thought of. So although word count often suffers, at least the plot thickens, ho ho.

    Reply
    1. Profile photo of A.E. Howard (Anna)

      again, everyone’s got their own style. My thing is, if did what you’re describing, I’d get bogged down and never finish, so it’s better for me to make notes and move on, perhaps making big changes later. I don’t have any trouble having my plot thicken as I re-write either. The novel I just finished, I was still making discoveries even on the 3rd edit.

      Reply

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