The perfect book
It’s easy for a story to be perfect before you’ve written it.
This isn't a ground-breaking revelation. I've probably read at least five iterations of the sentiment in craft books, blog posts, and Instagram captions. But this is the first time I've ever really felt it before, because this is the first time I've ever had two big stories going at once.
When I entered my first novel in Pitch Wars, I set it aside from the submission date until the mentee announcement. This meant just about seven weeks of distance between myself and my domestic suspense story, which all fans of On Writing will note is a rest period the King himself approves.
In the meantime I read a little more, took a week off from writing (caught a cold), wrote something short, and started brainstorming the next long piece. This new story, man. It has dynamic characters, shimmering plot points, and underlying emotions that promise to knit things together. This story is jam-packed with some of my favorite niche things, so research has proven extra fun. I’ve gone on field trips, watched movies, listened to music, and stacked up a formidable book pile at my bedside. I’m so excited about this new story, and it’s perfect because I haven’t started writing it. All of those ineffable things we try to tackle in writing are in my head, understood, because I haven’t attempted to explain them out loud.
I’m excited to start writing this new story, this perfect story, even though I know it only seems perfect because it’s so incomplete. The trouble is, it’s not time for that. It’s time for me to go back to my old story. The one that didn’t get selected for Pitch Wars. The one with the cliched description on page one and the clunky sentences and that one character that still doesn’t feel fleshed out after a year of hard work and, and, and.
For my own personal needs, being pretty regimented with my writing has come easily and feels good. And yet, I’ve put off getting back into this story. I’m feeling a blockage. A mental jam up where I’m not sure which problem to tackle first. There is a time-related piece that I want to make better, but if I pull on that thread couldn’t the whole thing unravel? And as for that pesky character, how do you get to know a person you made up?
As luck would have it, I’m largely off work this week and next, with only sporadic things to attend to. There’s no good reason not to refocus my attention on my first novel, and drinking my coffee in bed this morning, it occurred to me that I already know how to start. I’m going to indulge those other niche interests I scattered throughout the first story. The weird little things I slipped into the scenes, into the plot, into my characters’ interests. I’ll go to the places that remind me of the story. I’ll listen to that playlist I made for this book--the moody, love-stricken one that makes my heart race and ache. I’ll make that drink from the scene at the bar. I’ll remind myself of all the things I love about this story--the things that are somewhat aesthetic, and easy, and evocative, and I’ll let myself fall back in love with the feeling of the book. Essentially, I'll play. I'll make it fun, just like brainstorming is fun.
And meanwhile, I’ll pick a thread and pull. I'll promise myself (on repeat, as needed) that I won't abandon my book, no matter what might unravel. The love will come back with play, and I can work while I wait.
It's easy to romanticize the book I haven't written. Maybe that one will be better. Probably that one will be better. But this book I did write isn't finished yet. So I'm going to table the perfect book for now and pick up this real one.