Torn Between Two [Novels], Feelin’ Like a Fool

June 17, 2009 at 7:25 am (Uncategorized)

Yes, the happy day has finally arrived for a Donna Summer reference on DoctorDi. It’s a shame it hasn’t come sooner. Donna never gets old. I think the next line is ‘Cause loving you both/ is breaking all the rules – strangely apt as I think about my current state of mind. In fact I am torn between many more than two novels. There’s the published novels I’m reading, for a start (although thanks to your tacit encouragement/permission, I have temporarily abandoned Ulysses for the hundredth time and am eager to explore this audio option of which some of you speak ), and then there’s the unpublished variety I’m writing. They’re definitely competing in a fairly bloody timeshare arrangement – and that’s without including the non-fiction books I’m also reading or wanting to read. They’re shouting at me too, clambering to be heard. I tell you, it’s exhausting. Ever feel like you’re making no progress at all? I do. 

[An aside: I had an unexpected and warmly welcome freelance job fall into my lap in the last 24 hours, so I’ve only just had lunch, polishing off a cold lamb (leftovers from the other night, when Llew flexed his roast with the most) and mint mayo sandwich on sourdough – really, really simple and delicious. I love food.]

I’m at an interesting stage… I have one manuscript that’s been extensively redrafted. Nothing is happening with it at the moment. It’s just sitting on my desktop while I wait for feedback from my Volunteer Reader (I’ve had a few of those along the way, and may I just say, they are, each and every one of them, absolute legends). VR may say it’s agent ready… or VR may say it’s not. Either opinion is of equal benefit to me, because the last thing I want to do is act prematurely. Ever again. Because that just ends in tears, usually mine. But in the meantime what I’m finding is that I can’t quite let it go. I guess because it’s still here. With me. Not out there doing its thing with readers. I can’t let it go because it hasn’t gone. This is also true because I’ve commissioned Marcelo to do these illustrations for me, so we’re having lots of back and forth about that, which is hugely engaging and fascinating, and which keeps me very much focused on the MS. That can’t be helped. In fact, none of it can be helped. Time ticking on is one of the many surprise elements of this process. Months slide away. In six months, I’ll have been working full-time on this project, with freelance work on the side, for three years. And unlike my PhD, I could do the work, complete the task, jump the hoop and still not make it across that invisible line, which in this instance separates published and unpublished authors. All I can say is thank goodness for the freelance work. It’s been necessary financially and psychologically to have writing wins all along the way. 


So that’s the situation with MS #1 (which is actually MS #2, but the original #1 – celebrating its 10th birthday this year – really doesn’t bear thinking about – oh my god, no wonder it took me so long to attempt another one). Now comes the really tricky bit. Zeroing in on MS #2. What next? As an unpublished novelist, this just feels plain audacious. Get back in line, missy. Number two?! What gives you the right to start number two when number one is just rolling tumbleweeds across your screen? How can you have the cheek to even think about the next one when you’ve done nothing with this one? Well, they’re good questions, and the only explanation and justification I can offer you is this: I have to keep going. There’s an interesting discussion going on at the Varuna Alumni Writers’ Blog that’s related to my thinking about all this, and I think it’s really useful hearing in advance of possible publication that publication is not the end zone. It’s just one touchdown. You make your plays, you inch toward the line, you cross it, and then what? You go back and start all over again, that’s what. So in some sense I am trying to develop a game plan, which in my case involves writing the first draft of my next manuscript. 

Which brings me to the other way in which I’m feeling torn. You see, I have over 29,000 words of one I started a few months ago after finishing another draft of Spill (that’s the name of #1). I have developed a definite affection for the new characters, in part because the entire landscape is a total departure from Spill. It’s just so nice to get away from that world. I’m enjoying it, and them. But I do have a problem with plot, as I’ve already discussed here. It definitely comes later for me. One of the problems with that is that I am looking at these 29,000 words and thinking, okay, they’re interesting characters, I like ’em, but what the fuck is going to happen to them? I just can’t tell right now. I have no idea, and I mean none.

So I guess I’ll do what I did with Spill, which was keep writing, and then eventually stop writing and start redrafting. The plot is there somewhere. It just takes me a long time to find the path beneath the weeds. So what’s the trouble, you ask? Well, I’ve had this other idea in the last couple of weeks, and I’m really keen to pursue it. It’s very different to #2 in that it’s going to require a tonne of research, so I wouldn’t be writing anything of my own beyond notes for quite a long time. That’s okay, research can be a real joy, but… I think I’m scared. I think I’m scared that if I’m just reading and reading and not writing at all, that it’ll all…STOP. That I’ll open up #2 in a few months and it’ll be alien to me. That it’ll have curled and browned and finally died while I was away. Part of me is afraid that every manuscript is a race. A race to get that first big draft done, so that it will exist – however tenuous its life force. And so I’m afraid I’ll lose the race to see #2 into the world before the doubts besiege me. That’s what I’m trying to outrun, you see. The doubts, the terrible sleep-snatching doubts. Do I dare leave an embryonic manuscript unattended, unloved, unsupervised and unfinished while I go off to research something else entirely? I’m not sure. I’m not sure I can. So instead I’m paralysed – the worst outcome of all. Maybe I’ll flip a coin. Maybe Donna should too.



  1. Simonne said,

    I nodded all the way through this, D. I feel like we’re little peas in a pod right now! Congrats on the freelance job, btw 🙂
    I’m at that point too. Have started 2#, thinking, what the hell am I trying to achieve here? But you have to keep writing, and, from my experience, the writing only gets better, so if 1# never makes it, 2# just might!
    I’m very, annoyingly similar with the plotting problems! Why is that bit so damn hard!
    You need to sit with a hand on your belly, breathe into it and feel which project is the right one to get started on. You’ll know. And really, as long as you’re working, I’m sure it doesn’t really matter.

  2. Grad said,

    Have you ever seen the movie The Red Shoes? (If you haven’t, you really should. I promise you will never forget it.) Anyway, ballerina Victoria Page, played by Moira Shearer, meets Boris Lermontov, the impressario of a ballet company at a party. “Why do you want to dance?” he asks her. “Why do you want to live?” she replies. “Because I must,” says Lermontov. “That is my answer too,” she responds at last. I am neither a ballerina nor a writer, but I believe that to be truly successful at either, the “must” must be there. So, if you have that essential “must” it won’t matter which manuscript gets the immediate attention. Both will eventually get there…because they must.

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    You have to discover your own process. I know writers who work simultaneously or alternating between drafts on projects or who write short stories in the gaps between things. I find that doesn’t work for me. I need to keep the creative process focused on one book. But there are still gaps and have to be gaps. For one thing, when you do get published there is going to be this weird on and off time while you’re dealing with covers, copy-editing, galleys, and then hopefully promotion. I find that time period difficult for getting focused on anything because at any time I can be pulled out for a while and often in a completely different extroverted mode than what is needed for writing. I’ve tried working on something else during those times–but without success. For me, during the waiting times, doing something different works better. Those are the times I paint the house, pull up carpet, go to the art gallery and read. Don’t forget that reading is nourishing and even if it isn’t directly related to what you’re working on, it is feeding and replenishing your brain and your soul.

  4. davidrochester said,

    Better too many projects than none at all. *nodding sagely*

  5. kate4samh said,

    What they said above! xxxooo

  6. doctordi said,

    Simonne, you really are in a parallel universe, aren’t you?! It’s really funny discovering all these points of intersection. Funny and reassuring and comforting. I think you’re right. We just keep going.

    Grad, I haven’t seen that film, but I love the quote and think it absolutely applies to the compulsion I think all writers feel to write. To read and to write. Certainly all my life it’s been true that I *must* do both, even though only a fraction of the writing (but a vast majority of the reading) that got me to this point was fiction.

    Lilian, so true, and as with everything else, everyone is different. I’m definitely a one-at-a-time girl. The idea of working on two manuscripts at once is giving me a brain freeze. Nope. I just couldn’t do it. I’m awed that anyone can. Oh, don’t worry, I never forget that reading is nourishing. It’s non-negotiable, always.

    David, this is very, very true, and you are a very wise sage.

    Thanks, Kate!

  7. litlove said,

    I think there are two skills to learn – writing and editing. And you can only learn about editing while editing and only learn about writing while writing. So I think a writer is obliged to keep moving forward, or part of your craft stagnates. Mind you, none of this helps in the battle between two competing ideas. I’d just go where the energy is, I guess, on a day to day basis and it will all come clear (she says, triumphantly and hopefully….).

  8. doctordi said,

    Thanks, Litlove. I think you’re right; I think stagnation is my terror. One of my terrors, I should say. I’m going to stick with #2. I was talking about this dilemma with Llew the other night, and I became very animated talking about the new cast of characters, because I am really quite warmly disposed to them, motley crew though they be, and that decided me. The other idea can just percolate in a recess of my mind and meanwhile I am going to throw myself into the one I’ve already started… I think I owe them that much, at least.

  9. Pete said,

    What they said. But also, if you’re anxious about #2, that could be a good sign. Perhaps you could identify what it is that excites you about #3 and try to see whether it’s possible to pull some of that I hate to use the word “energy” but well, dynamic, into #2?

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