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?