One of the questions I’m asked by readers and writers is:
“Does it get easier?”
Novel writing, that is.
The short answer is no, writing a novel never gets easier.
The long answer is, it doesn’t necessarily get more difficult either. It gets, um, different.
Each novel is brand new, and for me, so is the process of writing it. This doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a lot and adapted, streamlined some of the ways I get from A to B. I have. It also means that some things take me longer and require more work. For me, the process evolves as a new set of story challenges emerges. The trick is to see this, and combat it, before I’ve written 300 pages. This process, coupled with the love of a story, is what keeps me engaged. It would be a nightmare,
As you know, I sent off about sixty pages of THE LAST BATHING BEAUTY to my agent a few weeks ago. She and I have a copacetic brainstorming relationship, and a friendship that is layered with our business connection. I am very lucky, and I know that.
This is what she told me about those sixty pages.
“I didn’t love them yet.” (Cue collection supportive groan!)
And my response was, “Why not?”
She then told me that she did love the pages I’d written with young Betty in 1951 (collective cheer!) but not so much the pages with 84-year-old Boop in the present day. So I digested this. I’ve written three well-received contemporary novels but I nailed the historical portion of the pages.
What on earth was my problem?
It was two-fold (thanking the writing juju it wasn’t ten-fold, believe me).
This is not a new issue for me. I am so “not plot” oriented that I try extra hard to get in what the characters are doing and their purpose in the story. I’ve done this before, and yes, it is in direct opposition to also at times being told that my drafts are quiet and not enough happens. Slowing down seems counterproductive to me, when readers are lapping up page-turning domestic thrillers.
But as soon as she said it, I saw it and knew it was true.
I edit and coach a lot of writers, and their work is crystal clear to me.
My own? Not so much. Which is a reason I wanted an editorial agent, and why I remain a workshop junkie.
Then she said the most important words I heard that day, the ones that set me off on the trail of revisions and understanding. Or re-understanding.
“I want to know who Boop is, not what she’s doing.”
I had forgotten to make this ABOUT Boop.
Or not forgotten, but pushed it aside.
I was so focused on what Boop was doing to get ready to sell her family home, that I didn’t impart who she was.
I know who Boop is, I know this in my core. (And my agent believes this.) I just haven’t succeeded yet in getting it on the page (well, I’ve revised, so maybe I have). The fact that in the prologue, Betty’s emotional dilemma is on the page right away, gives me hope. We know who she is–a reluctant bride who knows she’s beautiful. That makes the reader wonder WHY and continue reading to find out why, or at least part of why.
So while I’m annoyed with myself for the detour, it’s one that won’t allow me to get bored. Because if there’s something worse than a bored reader, it’s a bored writer.
Here’s my new first paragraph of the current day first chapter. I don’t know how close I am to being ready with this, but I’m making progress and will be sending pages back to my agent next week.
Setting the table for three, instead of four, turned a routine chore into a puzzle, and Betty “Boop” Peck did not like puzzles. She didn’t know which one of their group would be the third, the one not part of a pair. It had been seventy years or more since she’d thought of her friends as guests, if she ever had, but this was Boop’s house—her family home—so perhaps, as hostess, she should be the third.
Who was she kidding? At eighty-four, she wasn’t much of a hostess. She was more like a Walmart greeter.
Does this begin to convey who Boop is? Tell me in the comments.
I believe it does. It’s interwoven with a bit of what she’s doing (she can’t just be thinking all the time) which also speaks to who she is. It’s this cohesion that will make this story work, eventually.
I’ll continue sharing the process here on the blog–the process, the writing, the ups, the downs.
It’s always a ride and it’s nice to have company!
Speaking of good company, have you joined BLOOM yet? It’s a members-only reader group on Facebook with book talk, girl talk, giveaways, and camaraderie. I have a video and a FB live on the page (you can search Amy Nathan on the page to find it, or look through the videos) which was so much fun to do! Check it out! bit.ly/areyouinbloom And when you’re there, tag me to say hi, even if you’re more of a lurker!
I’m getting my first-pass pages this week, so I’ll be back with a picture or two and my thoughts on that process. And in a few weeks I’ll have my long-awaited ARCs of Left to Chance, so keep checking back for new and giveaways.
Does novel writing get easier for you? Tell me in the comments! (And if it does, please include that pixie dust with your answer!)