Kay: Writing to a Standstill

from Double Debt Single Woman

I have several manuscripts—all my early ones—sitting on my hard drive. Some time ago, I decided I should revise them into acceptable shape and put them out there.

Well, that’s easier said than done. The first one, which had had two heavy edits over the years, went great. It’s my first book, and in working on it again, I remembered how much fun I’d had with it all those years ago when I’d started it, how my spirits lifted every day when I sat down to it and I thought, I can do this. One light edit later, I finished it, and I’m happy with it. The cover’s done, and with luck, I’ll get it published in the next few weeks.

However, the second book is, as we say, another story altogether. When I wrote it all those years ago, my critique partner said several times that my hero wasn’t heroic enough, so I put it aside until I understood what she meant. Now I do. And I realized in shock that not only is my hero not heroic enough, he’s a jerk of the first water. How did that happen?

I plowed ahead on the manuscript, anyway. I’m cutting most of the hero and making him a secondary character. (By the time I’m done with this thing—if I’m ever done—he might be gone altogether, he’s that crummy a character.) I’ve introduced a new hero and even a villain. Several minor characters have been elevated to have speaking parts.

How is it going? I can hear you ask. And friends, it is not going well.

It’s like writing a whole new book. The deeper I go, the more I have to cut, as the former hero whose presence increased in the first iteration, now slides into the background. I need all new subplots. New goals, motivations, and conflicts. I’m only three chapters in, and I feel like I’m slogging through quicksand, not fizzing with fun the way I expected.

So I did what I do when I run out of steam, ideas, and hope. I turned to the internet.

I found an article called “On Finding a Little Spark When Your Writing’s Lost Its Heat” by Ron Hogan on a site called Literary Hub. Hogan tells a story about how Conan O’Brien—he of the late-night TV interview program—decided to shake up his career. According to Hogan, O’Brien cut his hour-long program to thirty minutes because he thought the second thirty minutes was always boring.

“Let’s say I’ve got a couple years left in me,” Hogan quotes O’Brien as saying. “What if I tried to … alter this so that I have a maximum amount of fun?”

I’m all for more fun—and I often wonder how many years I have left in me—so I read on.

The solution, for O’Brien and other creative types that Hogan cites, partly entails pushing yourself into new territory. Trying something new. Writing something that you don’t feel comfortable with. Or conversely, identifying what makes you unhappy with the current project and tossing that away.

I feel like I’m already tossing like mad (my Delete key is worn to a nub), but some of Hogan’s examples are extremely provocative. I’ll be checking those out.

In the meantime, what’s an author to do with a runaway jerk of a former hero?


6 thoughts on “Kay: Writing to a Standstill

  1. A “a jerk of the first water” sounds like definite villain material. Maybe you’ll find a new use for him.

    In the meantime, that’s great that the rewrite of the first book went so well and you rediscovered some joy there. That’s definitely something to hold on to.

    Good luck with your revisions!

  2. I’m going through something similar. The hero in my WIP isn’t a jerk, exactly, but he’s very ambitious. The story revolves around a heroine who is too ambitious (ambitious enough to sign a deal with the devil to succeed as an author).

    The conflict between them lies in his being critical of her ambition, but that comes across as hypocritical because of his own attitude.

    A couple of days ago, when I was ready to set this book aside yet again, my sprint partner suggested making him a guy who returned to his small hometown to join his dad’s practice after law school because he’s NOT ambitious. The suggestion opened up whole new worlds and I’m really excited about where this is going.

    So, based on my experience, you’re headed in the right direction. And I think the idea of taking your story in a whole new direction is a good one.

    If your hero has changed so much, how does that affect your heroine?

    • That’s a good point about the heroine. Of two sisters, she’s the steady one. In the original version, life has been hard for her so steadiness really came in handy, but joy was hard to come by. So far in the revisions I have her “sashaying” down the street belting out “We Are the Champions.” That was fun for me and, I hope, fun for her, too, so I hope I can build on that. And I see what you’re saying about turning a character around. My heroine still will have had a difficult life with hard decisions, but maybe she also can find fun in unlikely places.

      Good luck with your revisions! Sounds like you’ve found a good direction for this story.

  3. When I’m done with my current WiP–which is moving along at glacial pace–I plan to re-write my Golden Heart book (Alexis). That was my first Caldermor/elan story, but then I put it aside to write a set of prequels that have changed the heroine’s backstory and character beyond recognition. I plan to re-work the hero, too (same guy, but he’ll be getting a character refresh), and their relationship dynamic. Really hoping I’ll end up with a better book, and series, but it’s going to need more than a heavy edit. Sigh.

    A new hero, a villain, and a mere bit part for the jerkish former hero sound like excellent changes! I remember Jenny C saying in class that she completely rewrote Bet Me, and that turned out to be her most popular book. Good luck and fingers crossed that you end up with a fizzball of fun!

    • Thank you! Fizzball of fun—my new motto!

      I have to say that I’m a little sad that Alexis will need such a major rewrite. I liked that book so much! I’d wondered occasionally how that storyline was faring with the prequels you were writing, but I didn’t fret. Now I see that I had reason to worry. 🙂 Fingers crossed that when you get it it, it will fly off the keyboard. And glacial pace—well, we’ve all been there. My sympathies.

      I’ve thought about Bet Me many times. I should probably frame the cover as a reminder that all is not lost, no matter how confused I am.

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