A little over a month ago, I had one of those writing epiphanies. At the time, it was more of a writing crisis. I realize these kinds of crises are part and parcel for those of us who write. But this time was different.
So there’s this novel I had been working on over the past three years. It had gone from a sketchy idea to a fifth draft of a mostly finished novel. Being “mostly finished” was a large part my trouble. Anyone who reads this blog can track exactly how often I’ve been “almost done.” Somehow, I never seemed to make it to the end.
On top of being unfinished, I had long held a host of uncertainties about said novel. Not the uncertainty that the writing was crap. In fact, I’m pretty sure even now the writing I did is solid and good. And that was the problem.
The entire novel was only good. Not amazing. Not un-put-down-able. Not this-kept-me-up-all-night-give-me-more-now-please. I realize this is a high bar to hold oneself to, but at the very least, I’d like to evoke some hint of that reaction from my readers. While the story was solid and the writing was good, there was a lack of, well, heart. And I didn’t know how to fix that.
I still don’t know. Maybe it’s crazy, but I kind of think I revised out this story’s soul. That, or maybe all it was ever meant to be was a good, solid story. Maybe this simply isn’t the story I’m meant to be telling.
There’s this piece of advice I’ve heard on writing from Neil Gaiman, repeated over and over on tumblr and the like. It basically comes down to this: write the things that only you can write. The novel I spent the last three years working on, well, it could be any fantasy novel written by any fantasy novelist. It’s not something that screams, “Melissa wrote that!”
My best writing–the writing that comes easily to me and turns to fire in my hands–is dark and rich in emotion and details. It walks along gray lines and dances in shadows. I’m no poet. I never will be. But those stories, stories that are dark and personal and rife with old things, those are the stories only I can write. And, to be honest, I’ve been afraid of writing like that. It’s why I decided to try a fantasy novel with more action and adventure, something light. It’s why I’ve clung so desperately to YA for so long. I’m terrified to write in a voice that is mature and dark. Terrified and hungry, because even in fear, I long to write the things that only I can write.
So, after three long years, I shelved my “almost” finished novel. I’m not giving up on it forever. Perhaps I only need the distance of several months. Perhaps I’ll be able to return to it and make it mine. Perhaps I won’t, but I’ll use bits of it for new projects.
But for now, I’m not touching it. Instead, I’m going to work on a novel I started years ago that terrifies me. It’s dark and challenging. It’s ambitious and inspiring. And it’s only a story I can write.
Worst case scenario, I have two mostly finished novels to revise and polish to query by the end of the year. Best case, I find my voice again.