This middle grade novel is turning out to be quite the exercise in patience. I guess it’s to be expected that when you live with an idea for years without really thinking it through before writing.
Last semester I took this thing on because it was the most pressing, the most insistent of my unborn children waiting to see daylight. I felt it was a good place to start on my MFA journey because the characters would be easy and the story simple.
Easy, ha! Simple, pfeh!
So I wrote a good 70 pages or so and then it was clear it wasn’t working. Reboot. Started again and it felt like I was writing to please my advisor. Abort. Took a month off and came back to it fresh and ended up with a good, solid 20 pages. Six months and 20 pages, but they were good pages. Okay, I’m a novice, I’ll take it.
This semester I was determined not to let all that hard work dissipate so I picked up where I left off. 40 new pages the first month, almost 70 the second, I was too close to stop and pushed to finish. It took 10 weeks but it was a solid 150 pages of middle grade humor and anxiety and I thought: finally, time to pass go and collect $200.
Revision came and I saw the flaws in the opening, a beginning written before the ending was clear in sight, a beginning full of the wrong voice and misplaced focus. No problem, just dump it. Take a later chapter and use it as the opening, refocus the relationships. Add some chapters, splice together with other ideas.
Nope, not quite. I created a monster. It’s still too much the old wrong story, too much of a Frankenstein creation than a new vision. Re-vision, reenvision, revise, reinterpret, rework, work.
The notes came back that if I was going to tell this story I needed to incorporate any number of elements much earlier than I originally planned. The notes included a laundry list of elements from the manuscript, characters and conflicts. The notes included the recommendation for an “experimental” new opening chapter incorporating all these elements.
I’ve sat down five days in a row and tried to re-imagine the opening, the last four days I have tried to start from scratch. After the first day I had to ignore the original first draft and attempt a chapter purely from my memory of what I had written and the laundry list of notes. After three days and three different openings I started a fourth, totally ignoring everything including the notes.
I think I’m getting it.
It isn’t just an experiment, it’s an exercise, a flexing of the muscle I call a brain. It’s an expansion of the story, a variation on a theme, an orchestral development of a melody and a new arrangement of harmonies. It’s a test of direction, a test of faith, a test of wills between me and the story. It will either be an unmitigated disaster or a quiet triumph but will be the natural conclusion of all these attempts. It might not even be the final version, but it should at least be able to stand on its own finally.
But it needs to be written first. And the next person who hears about what I’m working on and says “I’ve been thinking about writing a children’s book,” thinking it’s as easy as jotting an email to a coworker, had better step back when they say it; I’m coming out swinging.