by Linda Rodriguez
(previously published in 2018)
Although I'm finishing final edits on my fourth Skeet Bannion novel, I’m also getting ready to begin my next novel, which will not be in the Skeet universe. I am making notes on characters, backstory, and plot for that next novel in between other writing projects and freelance jobs (which are still ongoing, shattered shoulder and autoimmune flares or not )
As I make notes about characters and possible plot points and freewrite my major characters’ diaries to find their distinct voices, I grow more and more excited about the new book. It hangs around the edges of my mind while I screen manuscripts, teach novel-writing classes, and work with developmental editing clients. I wake in the night with a character’s voice in my head or suddenly knowing about some key, hidden element in another character’s past that will drive some of his behavior.
Soon, it will be time to start writing the first draft. Will there be more prep work to do? Yes, and once I start writing the first draft, each day’s writing session will be divided between planning work and writing the first draft. The first day will be hours of planning with a page or two of first draft. It will be hesitant, just finding its voice and its way into the book. The second day will also include more planning but the writing section of that time will be longer and more confident. This pattern will continue for a week or two until writing the first draft has completely taken over the entire time.
This is where I am on my new novel—at the note-taking and planning stage. I am developing confidence in this book and its particular needs. Soon enough, I will be writing a few pages a day, but more each day than the day before. It will be slower and clumsier than usual, because I’ll be working it around the teaching, developmental editing, and freelance activities, but it will be building that necessary momentum, nonetheless. I know that, soon enough, the book will take off, and I will spend each day’s time scribbling away to keep up with it. And then, soon enough, I will hit the sloggy middle and realize that I can never write this book and I should have started another book altogether—and that probably I’m just fooling myself thinking that I’m really a writer, anyway.
Lots of people think that writing novels gets easier with each novel—or, at least, each novel that’s published. They’re wrong. I know this not only from my own experience but from the experience of novelist friends who have written and published multiple—often award-winning and/or bestselling—novels. Each book has its own set of problems that the writer must solve. The only way to avoid that is to write exactly the same book over and over again—something my friends and I have no wish to do.
The one advantage of having published a novel (especially if you get to know others who have done the same) is that you know you will feel helpless and hopeless at a certain point in the book, and you know that you will make it past that, if you just keep writing and don’t give up. You also know that, when you go back to find the days when your writing was flowing versus the days when you squeezed out each dreadful word, letter by letter, you can’t tell them apart at the end. None of this helps you to avoid the hopelessness and dread, but it helps you to keep writing through them.
Right now, however, I face none of that. I’m excited about the book’s premise. I’m learning more and more about the characters and what drives them. This book sits before me, seductive in all its potential and possibility. Rationally, I know that nasty middle awaits me in all its depressing hopelessness, but emotions are driving me now, and emotionally I’m in love with my new book. Like anyone in the early throes of love, my vision glosses over any and all imperfections or potential problems. All I see is exciting perfection. All I want is to be able to spend all my time with my beloved. Since I know the time will come soon enough when I growl at my husband, “Why did I ever start this @#$$%^&^&* book? Why did I ever think I could be a novelist?,” I’m going to enjoy these early stages of infatuation as long as I can.
What’s your favorite time when writing—the beginning or the end? (I assume no one is masochistic enough to prefer the middle!) How do you make it through the tough times you encounter when writing?
Linda Rodriguez's Dark Sister: Poems is her 10th book. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, were published in 2017. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee detective, Skeet Bannion, and Revising the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2019. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.
Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com