Starting Something New

Well, a new year has arrived. A chance to start over, to make new plans, to begin something new. For me, that means starting a new writing project–although admittedly the timing has less to do with the arrival of 2016 and more to do with the submission of my doctoral comprehensive exam. Nevertheless, I am ready to get out of the editing and querying doldrums that have been occupying my time for the past several months and make some substantive progress on my next novel.

It’s going to happen any day now.

No really, guys–I got this.

*wrings hands nervously*

*frantically averts gaze*

*sighs exasperatedly*

Ok, so I’m having a hard time starting something new. I mean, a really hard time. Like, there is no good reason why it’s taking me so long to get back into first draft writing mode. I have been craving this opportunity for months, and I have at least half a dozen solid novel ideas spewing about in my brain. But here’s what my progress has looked like so far:

  • Surveyed writing buddies and had them vote on which idea I should write next. Wrote first chapter of selected idea. Decided I’m not ready to write the rest and haven’t gone back to it since.
  • Wrote chapter one for a different novel idea. Re-read chapter one and hated it, so I wrote a new version of chapter one. Realized I needed to completely change the backstory of the main character, so I wrote a third version of chapter one. Then brainstormed with my critique group and learned I needed to dramatically alter my world-building strategy, which will mean re-writing chapter one yet again.
  • Wrote the first scene of the sequel to a third novel idea. The sequel. I haven’t even written a sentence of the first novel, but for some odd reason I felt inspired to write the beginning of the second. And it was really good, and it was so easy to write, and then I realized that none of that mattered at all since I had done nothing at all on the first novel.

So what’s going on, here? What’s my deal?

I have a couple of theories.

First, I think I’m intimidated by the process ahead. When I wrote my first novel–the one I just spent all that time editing and querying–I had no idea what I was getting into. I couldn’t have imagined that it would take me an entire year to write, and two years more to revise. And I had no idea the challenges that lay ahead in terms of searching for an agent and trying to wriggle my way into the publishing world. I did learn a lot of valuable lessons throughout that process–like the importance of having a critique group and honest beta readers, and the value of looking up things like expected word counts for your genre before you write your first draft (why? why did I only think to do that after I had written more than 50,000 words above the expected range?). But when I look back over the thousands of hours of work that went into my first project, the thought of starting all of that over again is, to be quite honest, a little daunting.

I also think I’m a little worried about whether I can produce another quality novel. It’s almost as if there is some part of me that believes this was a one-time thing, and nothing I ever write again will be as great. Each time I try to write something new, my voice sounds clunky, my sentences are awkward, my characters feel flat. When I compare that to my other, polished manuscript, I feel a little defeated. It’s hard to remember that my first novel, too, had characters that underwent enormous transformations from draft one to draft seven, and contained many phrases that still sounded awful throughout several rounds of revisions. I also think I’m taking more risks with my newer projects, risks that I didn’t take with my first novel. I’m challenging myself to write from perspectives that feel more foreign and distant. I’m taking on more complex world-building. I’m holding myself to higher standards as a writer, and I think that’s important. It’s just hard to notice what difference they’re going to make right now, when I’m still staring at a crappy first draft.

I don’t know if all writers and artists struggle so much with starting something new. I don’t know if everyone feels so frustrated and terrified and overwhelmed, all at once. But I’m learning that, at least for me, starting over is one of the hardest things about writing.

I want so much to return to the joy I experienced three years ago when I discovered that I had a story inside of me that had to get out, no matter what it took. I want so badly to remember that any act of pure creation is an ongoing cycle, an in-depth process, a strange and beautiful journey. And I think I’ll get there, eventually. I’ll find my way back to the zone. I’ll get out of this rut, and hopefully won’t beat myself up too much about it along the way. In the meantime, though, it helps to be honest about this new and unexpected challenge I’m facing. It helps to get it out there in the open, to see the words scribbled across the screen.

Here’s hoping I get many more constructive words scribbled onto the screen in the months ahead…