Photo by Joel Robison
This has happened to me, as it turns out, a few weeks ago, but I failed to see it. Moreover, I was too chicken to talk about it, to admit it, and to be okay with it. What happened was very simple but it struck me so hard that it took me a few days to process. I outgrew SIREN SUICIDES, not in terms of the story, but as a writer. I stared writing it full time on May 15th of 2012, so it will be exactly 1 year very soon. It's my first novel, well, 3 novels, because it turned out to have too many words for one. I took too long to write it, and I wanted to share this experience with you because it taught me a lot. I realized why it was harder and harder to start editing each morning. After my breakthrough I completed 2 Chapters in 1 day. That's 35 pages, not too shabby, right? In a way, my slowing down was my own version of being stuck, call it writer's block or something else, and, in a way, I won over it and I want to show you how, in case you're battling the same problem.
My characters are locked in. My biggest struggle (and biggest fear) is writing is dialogue. English is not my first language and I'm constantly afraid of not being able to capture the nuances of spoken English authentically enough so that my readers will believe me. As I kept writing, and reading, and writing, and reading, I developed a better sense about how to write good dialogue, even blogged about it. I kept applying my lessons to my own writing, and kept seeing it improve, until suddenly it couldn't improve anymore. I'm on Draft 5 now, and I was increasingly frustrated at how my characters talk. In general, it's very brisk and to the point, sometimes too short, too torn. I couldn't figure out why I can't change it. Especially frustrating was the fact that in jotting down notes for my next novel, ROSEHEAD, the dialogue would flow better. I was tearing my hair out, until I saw the problem. I can't change a thing. My characters are fully developed, and they talk the way they talk, it's too late to change anything, and when I tried, it didn't sound authentic. So I let go, stopped trying to improve it, because there was nothing to improve. And my dialogue soared.
My story is very personal. This was the hardest thing to admit. My novel is very personal to me. I'm very close to it, emotionally, that's why it takes so much to write it, and that's why it's harder and harder to keep going, because I'm forcing myself to go into my personal pain. What I realized is, a story needs to be simply that, a story. I'm invested too much into the characters to be able to step away and see them objectively as a writer. So I end up semi-talking to them like to real people who serve as the base for the characters. And again, after I realized this, I also realized that it's too late to change the tone, and I stopped battling myself. The result astounded me. It started flowing again, because I let the fear go. Yes, it's personal, and it's okay for this particular book. Yes, it's very raw, and it's okay for this particular book. Yes, it's unpolished, and it will stay this way no matter how many drafts I do, so I might as well stop now and let it be. The story thanked me by pouring out of me like crazy. As a side-note, I found that many first time novels are very personal to first time writers, so it's okay. It just seems to be the path to growing as a writer.
My style has solidified. By reading my previous drafts, I could pick out places where I would somewhat imitate Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling, or Chuck Palahniuk, or Haruki Murakami. I couldn't help it, I was unsure of myself and kept borrowing sentence structure or prose styling from my favorite authors. Now that I'm on Draft 5, I noticed that there is a certain rhythm to my words and it's different from the very beginning of the book, because as I wrote, I kept calming down and being okay with my own way of writing. What I saw today was the fact that I shouldn't try to change the quality of the book by imposing my new calm self on it. I was in a tumultuous place when I wrote it, and I should preserve it, it's part of the story now, part of the book, and it's okay. It was like an eye opener. I was astounded to see it. And, again, the result was the same. It started flowing again, I was afraid I won't be able to type fast enough. The lesson here is not to keep rewriting until your fingers bleed, but to let go and let your story be as it is and move on to the next story, applying newly asquired skills there. In a fresh narrative, with fresh room to learn even more. This freed me from my nagging need for perfection. It felt wonderful.
There, these are the three big things that I saw. In fact, like I said, I sort of felt them weeks before, but it took a while for me to clearly see what they meant, and the result blew my socks off. Have you had a similar experience?