Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Importance of A Novel That May Never Be Published

This has been somewhat of a common theme around here lately, so if you kinda wanna skip this entry, I don't blame you.  If still interested, however...

I'm struck more and more how important this current project is, not by it's publishing potential, not by its genre choice (though mash-ups are the hot thing right now, lots of them being done well and horribly), not because any particular publisher wants it, not because I've got folks raving about it (a few of my colleagues liking the bits I post on Facebook don't count as raving), but because of one, simple thing:

I'll be able to write "The End".

And right now, that's the most important thing in the world to me.

Hiram Grange & The Chosen One was a landmark, in some ways.  Writing-wise, it is what it is: the prose is clean,  smooth reading, and I think it's a fun story.  It was really fun to write.  More than one person has read it and said: "You had fun writing this, I could tell," most notably (minor pimping of self here) Stoker Award-Winning author Norman Prentiss (whom you ALL should read).  It got decent reviews, even a few Stoker Rec's, and I'm proud of it.

But that's not why it was so important. 

It's important, because it was the first ever long work I actually finished.

And that, my friends, was huge.

A short history lesson: I once ground away for SIX YEARS on half of a novel.  Kept moving things around. Changing the story.  Couldn't figure out the plot.  Before that, I had written a novel, but even that was a 178,000 word first act in an epic space trilogy that I had no idea how to end.

I didn't know how to get to "The End".  Of anything.

And it was killing me.

Finally, I threw my hands into the air, gave up the novel, and for the first time started writing short stories and book reviews.  Anything that was short, had a word count, and I could end. So then I could actually draft a finished piece, watch it get better. I did really well with the reviews, ended up writing a paid freelance gig for our city newspaper.  Did marginally well with the short stories.

And then came Hiram Grange.  A major challenge, to write something longer and actually FINISH it.  But I was under a time crunch.  Had signed a contract.  So I outlined the thing - for the first time ever - and banged that baby out.

I actually wrote The End.  Which, at that moment, felt better than getting published, almost.  After Hiram, I enjoyed another sorta victory with my MA thesis for Creative Writing, wrote a short novel - 50,000 words - and actually wrote 'The End' there, too.

So, I thought I'd arrived (again).  I'd now crank out novel after novel, start building up a store of them, and no longer spin my wheels.  That thought in hand, I grabbed my MA thesis, started adding stuff in, ready to write my magnum opus.

A year and half later?

Nothing.

Grinding my wheels again.  Because with all those converging plot-lines -and the fact I hadn't outlined - I produced 600 pages of chaos.  There's five hundred good pages in there somewhere, but once again I'd come up empty.

This could have been devastating.  Crushing, even. Except that, along the way, I learned the biggest reason why these big novels kept falling flat on their faces.

Because I didn't outline them. Plain and simple.  Let's check the facts I learned over that period:

1. I outlined Hiram Grange = story finished
2. I outlined several short stories in that time period - finished and sold
3. I outlined and wrote full synopses for two Teen novels I'd been pitching.  I didn't write them, but because of the outlines, am confident I could write them tomorrow.
4. Have since outlined a novella I plan on writing soon as I'm finished with this project.
5. I outlined this current project, and there's not been one minute of hesitation, and I KNOW I'll finish it. 

Ergo, lesson learned: I outline from now on. 

Anyway, when my "magnum opus" ground to a halt, I knew I had to write this one, and not only because Billy the Kid had suddenly come to life and started talking in my ear (that's always a really good sign).  But I had to write it because even though it had been turned down at HarperTeen (though the acquisitions editor loved the idea), even though I had no other publishers interested, I KNEW I'd finish it, knew I'd write THE END to this one.

Which seems like the most important thing in the world, right now.  A finished product I can draft and polish and rewrite until I like it.  That's the most important thing to me, at this very moment. 

Almost more important than ever getting it published.

Which is ironic, because I never thought I'd hear myself say that...