Emerging from the Swamp

It’s two months since my last blog post. When I began this endeavor I had the best intentions to stay on track, keep in touch and share the daily-ness of this writer’s life. And then I got knocked right off the path by my new book, HONOR & GLORY.

I’m going to come right out and say it: I have an obsessive relationship with my work. Once I start a book I’m unable to focus on much of anything until I’m finished with it. The first draft is like a forced march through snake infested swamps but revising is my addled idea of fun. I sometimes say I don’t really like to write, but I love to rewrite.

Well, here’s what’s happened.

I marched. From chapter one right through to chapter sixteen. Every now and then I heard a small voice off in the distance (the inner distance, which is where I banish my critic when I’m writing a first draft), and this voice was saying there wasn’t much going on and wasn’t it all a little (ahem!) “boring?” I have trained myself to ignore the critic’s voice at this stage because if I listen too hard or long what I hear is so discouraging that I have to take a nap. This time, I should have been listening.

After more than twenty books I’ve finally realized she is not my critic, she’s my navigator.

I finished the first draft of HONOR & GLORY which I knew was rough and only basted together but not bad, I thought. Not bad. Except that it had no through line, no scenes, no drama. It was, as the little critic/navigator voice said, “boring.”

Lord, Lord, gloom and misery.

Alligator in the SwampMy first thought was that instead of marching gallantly through the swamp full of water moccasins and alligators, I had waded deeper and deeper into it, was in up to my neck and running out of time. For an hour or so I thought about training to be a Pilates instructor. The money wouldn’t be great but I’d stay fit. I called my agent. I sent her the manuscript. I felt sorry for myself.

The fog cleared after a little while and I realized that my untidy first draft was loaded with characterization. In fact, when I began to think how I might revise it, a lot of ideas came to me fast because I know my heroine, Marine Corps Captain Frankie Tennyson, very well by now. Ditto her husband and daughter and a lot of other people. My agent, Angela, read the first draft and between yawns informed me that I had written a 350 page “character dump” and apart from the small matter of my deadline, this wasn’t at all a bad thing. She told me to go back to work, but I already had.

Page one, chapter one.

As I’ve written previously, Twenty-first Century novel writing is a collaborative effort. Occasionally I bitch and moan about this but not often, because basically I’m a cooperative person and enjoy working with colleagues who can help me write a book we’re all proud of. I’m not good at getting out of the swamp on my own. I need someone to help me plot a map or point out a tussock of grass where there might be solid ground. So here I am wearing high boots, surrounded by water lilies. There’s an anaconda following me, its flat eyes just above the water line; but I’m pretending he’s not there and even if he is, he can’t hurt me. Up ahead I think I see a palm tree.

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One Response to “Emerging from the Swamp”

  1. Simondog says:

    I didn’t know Nadia critiqued books too.