Ten years ago, more or less, I had just finished my first novel, what would eventually become Dreaming Anastasia. I’d spent a number of years before that writing a little here and there, but mostly I was teaching and raising a son and living a basically fine life with lovely adventures, a few nerve-wracking economic downturns, and the requisite amount of good times and bad times, but still not exactly the life I wanted to live. I had wanted to write for at least part of my living as long as I could remember. And I wasn’t really doing it.
So I instituted a do-over, although I don’t know that I called it that in my head. A second chance to try for this thing I hadn’t always admitted I wanted. Some days wrote only a page or two. Others I’d managed a thousand words or more. But I committed fully. Even now I’m not exactly sure why. But every day I sat and wrote. I found other writers. Became part of the creative community. Figured out what I had to do once the novel was drafted.
Everything that has happened in my writing career came from that do-over—including other crucial do-overs!
A few months before Dreaming Anastasia published, the editor who’d acquired it abruptly left the publishing house. New editor arrived. For me that meant a do-over—a new relationship to forge over a book that hopefully he would like. (He did.)
Less than a year later, editor 2 abruptly left—just as I turned in book 2 of what had miraculously become a series! Another do-over—adjusting to temporary editors and eventually official editor number 3, who eventually acquired book 3.
In between, my in-house publicist who had been a champion of my career, also left without warning. Do-over!
Editor 3 rejected more than one option book proposal and manuscript. A bad do-over ensued when I wrote a romantic comedy in order to please her, only to realize this was not the book I wanted write. Nor was it a good book, which meant that after 6 months of trying to force things, I tossed it. Another do-over that same year when I sat down at a retreat one weekend and the outline for the book I was supposed to be writing poured out of me. Eventually it sold to Balzer and Bray and became last year’s Finding Paris.
In between, editor 2 settled asked me to work on a different series with him at his new publishing house. A fun do-over to get to write for him again!
Are you seeing a pattern?
This past year, I had to initiate another do-over more than once for a project I adore but which wasn’t working the way I needed it to. “You aren’t digging deep enough,” my agent told me, and she was right. I re-thought and re-plotted and re-thought again and slowly, painfully, over a long number of months (really more than a year, if I’m honest), I think I have figured out what I am really writing about underneath and why it’s an important story to tell. Agent and I are getting ready to sub it soon. (fingers crossed!) Some novels hide from us, I think. We can give up and let the idea pass, or we can do it over (and over) until we get it right. Of course there’s the scary thin line between getting it right and staying with something that will never work no matter how many do-overs we get. I don’t know if I have a solid answer for that bit of trickiness. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this some in her wonderful book on creativity and writing, Big Magic, which I highly recommend.
In between all the above soul-searching, I finished the forthcoming It Wasn’t Always Like This, about a girl and boy who accidently become immortal but lose each other for a hundred years. They become different things along the way, but they never give up searching for each other. It was a wonderful but difficult book to write. So many points in time to keep track of a number of characters and a romance and a murder mystery plot. I’m sure you know that I wrote it over and over, stretching at my deadline each time my editor said I needed to push some more to get it exactly right. Some stories are like that. Always, it's worth it. Always!
So is life, I suppose.
Do-overs. I kinda love them.
How about you?