Making A Mess Of Things

Have you ever made such a massive error—either in judgment, timing, or craft—that it took way more energy than it was worth to back up, track where things went off the track, correct, then go forward?

I can think of several such instances in my life. Sometimes with a project (Cross stitch pattern off by six rows? That teddy bear now has a crooked ear and a tooth where an eye should be). I learned to count more carefully. And that I needed glasses.

Sometimes with a wrong turn down a poorly identified country road in the middle of winter in the days before GPS (yes, I’m showing my age to all of you young’uns out there). I learned to memorize the map before I left the house. And that investing money in a GPS wasn’t a bad idea…

Sometimes in relationships (You know, the ones that you think are worth it, but aren’t, because the other party is an idiot—or you’re the idiot and didn’t deserve the other person to begin with.). I learned to be careful who I trust. And then to trust someone until I couldn’t (hardest lesson learned by far).

I could go on, but you get the point.

I made such a mess of my first novel attempt that that poor piece has been started and stopped more times than New Year’s diet proclamations in the collective United States.

The idea came about during a creative writing exercise years ago when I was trying to train my brain to turn off the medical transcriptionist/editor voice and turn on the muse. Shake the gears loose, so to speak. I loved the idea (based on objects at the time, not on characters) so much that I dove right in with reckless abandonment.

I cast my characters complete with photos taken of people from the internet to have a concreate way to describe them accurately and to put faces to my names. The cast consisted of two boys on the brink of high school, two elderly men, and two millennial villains.

That was my first issue—but I didn’t know it at the time.

The characters’ ages made my target audience unclear. Was I writing for upper elementary kids? Young adults? Adults? Who knew. Most heroes for elementary audiences are twelve years old. Most for young adults are upper high school. And adults? Well, would they even tolerate my immature main characters long enough to fall in love with the old men in the cast?

Part of this problem, I figured, was that I was on the tail-end of finishing up homeschooling my kids. I had been absorbed in that world for so long—reading and pre-reading their school’s material—that I think my brain jumbled what I really wanted to do.

My second issue was rooted in content. Not so much the storyline, but how I decided to “move” the boy’s parents out of the way. They weren’t front-and-center nor important to the plot, but the way I went about it wouldn’t do for elementary kids. Secondary problem: Extricating the parents was woven and brought up several times through the story, so massive edits would be needed to correct it.

Third problem? I set the story in a time where corn stalks needed to be taller than the kids, but it was late spring in the novel. Hmmm. Over-eager farmers planted corn in January? Tweak the weather? Extend the school year because of a horrible winter the season before? Magical corn? Oh my word.

Fourth: Pickup trucks, especially the exact same pickup truck, cannot be in more than one location at the exact same time. Neither can people. Unless the world you’ve created is magical. Mine is set in real-life earth with a few magical objects and maybe a slightly supernatural villain. But no time-bending, space-shifting stuff. So massive issues—and I did both with the pickup and a secondary character.

So, I’m cleaning up the messes, looking hard at my target audience and deciding which bones and ideas of the story are worth fixing, polishing and moving on with. Tossing around ideas for a couple of sequels, as well. Massive swaths of chapters and scenes have to be cut or reworked.

But, boy, am I learning a few things:

Finishing something that I started when the creative writing urge took hold of me by the throat and wouldn’t let go is huge for me. I’ve a thousand and one other ideas I’d rather put energy into, but this is important. To finish. And I won’t forgive myself if I don’t.

I’m learning about audience. Tone, style, pacing.

I’m learning about keeping track of who’s on stage, who’s off stage and who shouldn’t be in the book in the first place.

I’m learning it’s painful to cut scenes that I was emotionally “close” to, but that sometimes it makes the story stronger. Tighter. More elegant.

I’m learning more about writing by finishing this disastrous first attempt than I’ve learned doing almost anything else.

I’ve also learned what I need to keep working on.

Take a look at the current mess you may have—in judgement, timing, or craft—and decide what to keep. What to rework. What to delete to make life more elegant.

What to keep working on…

I promise it will be worth it.

Thank you for hanging out for a bit. Check back on Mondays for a new blog and the first Friday of every month for a free fictional short, and be sure to visit my Amazon page.