It was Stephen King, in his mandatory book On Writing, that described his writing desk at two stages of his life. Early on, his desk was gigantic, “T-rex sized” as he puts it, in the middle of his writing space. But later, he got a smaller desk, placed it to the side, and filled his room with other things.
Perhaps the best thing that could have happened to my writing was walking away from it. After my output slumped in June, I decided to break from anything that wasn’t paying me (basically, everything but The Daily WTF) and focus on everything else in my life. I had to get rid of the T-rex desk in my own life to get some things in order, but coming back, I realize that writing never left me. It’s always there, no matter how long I break from it. The trick is, as King discovered, not letting writing run your life, but to live as broad a life as possible and still be able to write.
So, this year’s NaNoWriMo is an extension of last year’s. Altars and Acolytes, the most recent title of what’s been called A Buried Stone Gate, The Coral Gate, and (dubiously) That F
ing Novel, will finally see its most recent draft done.
See, Altars was an easy first draft but an immensely difficult revision. Writing it through several years ago, I went on flights of fancy, creating darlings left-and-right. Stream of consciousness? Check. Style changes? Check. Way too many POV characters? Check. Too long for my genre (YA Fantasy)? Check. Italicized thoughts? Dune has more, but just barely.
I did one revision shortly after finishing the rough draft, but upon reading it later, it was clear that the story wasn’t working. Everything needed streamlining, the tension was as slack as a wet noodle, and I had converted to avoiding italicized thought narration. (Sorry, Frank Herbert.) Plus, there were character changes I could make to strengthen the narrative, but they would require a lot of revision.
So, v3 was what I started on last year, and I soon found that writing around existing scenes wasn’t the fastest way to make a new draft. I continued on after November, despite moving to a new apartment, getting hospitalized for heart trouble (just a vasospasm, not a heart attack, but damn did it scare me!), and acclimating to my new job. I took a break when my output whittled down to next to nothing every day, and since I was ramping up work in my church, my headspace wasn’t focused on writing at all for several months.
On Thursday, as my friends were three days into NaNoWriMo, I lamented not having a project to work on. I was considering starting from scratch, but I had no fresh ideas. My friend DM Bonanno suggested that, since we both have novels that need finishing, that we work on them simultaneously for NaNoWriMo.
While I didn’t take a totally “scorched earth” policy, I did decide that the halting progress of revisions on Altars could be sped up if I did something drastic: tossing out my existing third act. I had already stripped out unnecessary and obsolete scenes, but the rest depended so much on deleted characters and plot developments that stitching them together would take forever. So, taking a page from 2K to 10K, I made a new, detailed outline of my third act, tinkered with it over a couple days until it was just right, and put it into action.
And the words came back in a tidal wave.
I want Altars and Acolytes done. I mean, it still won’t be after this draft — it needs a thorough low-level pass and a polish — but I haven’t had a coherent draft of this story in literally years. It’s a story I love with characters that are writing themselves at this point. I just needed to clear away the debris of past drafts to let them.