Thursday, August 7, 2014

Growth (Writing Update 8.7.14)

When I learned that Eggplant was going to close down and my little SF Western novella was coming back to me, I did what any author would. I emailed my agent and said "Help! Now what?" and flailed a bit.

I was really hoping he would get back to me with "Of course we can find a new home for this." Instead his response boiled down to "Egh. This needs some work." So, I figured I'd put it on the shelf for a bit and let it simmer. Maybe there would be new subplots I could work into the already tight plot structure. (It's a revenge western. In space. The plot is mostly "I'm looking for the bastard who killed my mother." and then lots of bodies dropping because folks are stupid enough to get between my very dedicated, revenge-hungry protagonist and her psychotic, cybernetic horse.) I would let it sit it for a while and then come back to it.

Naturally, as soon as I decided that was the plan of action, I immediately came up with a new solution. It wasn't the sort of thing I was anticipating. It involves the clever juggling of two timelines and the addition of a new character into past events. It also meant starting the story from a different place.

It also meant that my opening paragraphs - which I loved - would have to go. I didn't want to get rid of my opening. It was snarky and set the stage for the story in just a few words.

So, I balked. I shook my fist at my muse (who, being a right proper bastard, flipped me off) and tried to figure out some way to keep this thing that I loved about the original version and work it into the new version. But none was apparent. (Because my muse is a right proper bastard who doesn't compromise.)

Reluctantly, I resigned myself to the idea that if I were going to rework this book (because there's nothing quite like being told "This isn't quite good enough" to get my stubborn up) I would have to start from scratch. No clinging to the parts I loved. No hanging onto the turns of phrase or witty comebacks or lovely, gritty descriptions and noirish narrative. I would have to start from scratch.

And, as soon as I committed to that, I was struck from behind by a brilliant opening line. (Because my muse is also a right proper genius when he's not being a bastard.) A line that is just better than my original. Soooo much better. (And bear in mind, the opening for the novella as published was this: By the time I was born Mankind was dying on a hundred worlds and Earth, our legendary mother, was lost. Not lost in a metaphorical sense. Not lost to famine or plague or war or the inevitable destruction of Sol. Just plain where-did-we-put-that-mother-fucking-planet lost.) Not award-winning prose, but certainly solid. And I loved it, or I wouldn't have written it.

But... sometimes in order to grow we have to let go of the things we have already done well in order do to new things better. And, yes, that also means sometimes we do things worse. But worse is always fixable and we can't do better if we don't let go of doing things the same. 

Wordcount: Dust and Stars - 355


Kathryn McKade said...

Woo hoo for inspiration! (I'm still stuck in the flailing stage myself). I love it when the perfect solution just kicks you in the shins out of nowhere.

A.G. Carpenter said...

Yeah. Flailing is often part of the process for me. I think part of the key was recognizing it was okay if I never did anything with this book ever again. By turning my attention elsewhere, I essentially "let go" of this one and gave myself permission to let it sink out of sight or rewrite it completely. Which sounds a little silly, but I find the less I try and hold myself to some sort of "standard" or expectation of what I should do, the more cooperative my subconscious and creative side becomes.