A year and a half ago, I began attending the monthly meetings of the Kitsap Peninsula chapter of the Romance Writers of America ( http://penrwa.org/index.html) at the suggestion of Jennifer Conner, a romance novelist and an e-book publisher (http://www.bookstogonow.com ). She also runs an online column featuring more local writers.( http://www.examiner.com/writing-careers-in-seattle/jennifer-conner )
The group was congenial and supportive, the meetings stimulating, and I soon found myself trying my hand at a steamy paranormal romance. The Vanth—a tale of a young American tattoo artist, an Etruscan warrior hurled forward in time, and a lovely but implacable female demon who pursues him—seemed to write itself, so quickly did it progress, and I had a complete first draft in less than two months! That was last February.
Although I made a few tentative approaches to agents, the instant rejections neither surprised nor dismayed me. I knew the novel was not truly ready to be read by an agent or editor. It had major weaknesses and I couldn’t figure out what to do about them. I’d heard some great presentations in the PENRWA meetings, I’d been to workshops, I’d read books on how to structure a successful novel, and it wasn’t hard to come up with ideas about how to fix my story’s problems. But all those possible solutions felt too contrived, gimmick-y. The characters by then had become real people to me, and I just couldn’t move them around like puppets to suit the demands of a formulaic plot. Then new projects arose, and my life distracted me from a tight focus on my writing, as life will sometimes do, and I forgot about the book.
Last week I picked it up and saw instantly how I could ratchet up both the suspense and the sexual tension, in ways that grow naturally out of the story and the characters, and are not the least bit gimmick-y.
How can this be so easy now when it was so hard a year ago?
One reason, of course, is that my writing keeps improving as long as I keep writing (almost every day – let’s be real here). I have a better eye for structure and balance and tension in the plot than I used to have, and I’m still learning new plotting techniques, as opposed to gimmicks: not the same thing at all!
But another reason, probably the most important, is that I let it wait. In those two months when the story erupted from my brain, I stayed up too late writing, night after night, and rushed back to the computer as soon as I woke up, 500 words before breakfast. Even when I was not writing, I lived in the middle of the story: I walked again in memory in the Italian hill town ofTarquinia, where the action takes place; I saw, smelled and tasted the wonderful food; I dreamed of the characters; I was a shadow third in their lovemaking. Getting some distance on all that was like trying to see the thematic patterns in my own life as an historian might: an overview was simply not possible.
Now it is. And now making changes, large and small, to the plot does not feel like interfering with the characters’ lives: it feels like correcting the mistakes I made in my understanding of their story, first time around.
This is certainly not new advice, to let a book wait and come back to it with fresh insights. I always thought it made perfect sense; it was advice I had just never happened to take. This is only my third novel, after all. I spent seven long years working and reworking the second, the “serious” novel; then I wrote this one; and since then I’ve been writing and editing short stories. Now I know it’s more than just good advice: it’s a rush! It’s a thrill. It’s fun.
So now I am revising The Vanth, probably not at the same feverish pace as the first draft, but still as an absorbing occupation. For the next several months I will be posting every other week on this blog, rather than every week, and my posts may largely concern specific challenges I meet in the course of revision: whatever I can learn from others about the process, and what I learn for myself by doing it.