In these posts, which will run every other Friday until I finish the darn thing (months? years?), I plan to share questions that come up for me as I write my first novel. Please take a minute to share your experiences and your answers, since I can use all the help I can get!
As all of you know, I am emerging (a little bit) from the sabbatical I took to work on my first novel in order to blog on She Writes about...working on my first novel! I plan to publish it on the newly minted She Writes Press (a unique new publishing option I hope you all will consider as well), but right now I am less than a third of the way through my first draft. I have a lot of learning to do, and pages to write, ahead of me.
In light of that, my plan is to keep these posts short. In each of them, I will ask a question that will serve more as a jumping-off point for discussion and knowledge-sharing than as a platform for my musings on the craft. Who wants to hear from a beginner? So this will be an advice column in reverse. I am going to ask for your advice. I hope you won't mind giving it.
So here goes!
The first question comes from the years I spent trying to get going on a novel, but failing:
How do you know when it's time to let go of an idea and (try at least) to come up with another one?
I've wanted to write fiction since I was a girl. But in college I wrote several absolutely painful short stories, and in my twenties I wrote a screenplay that, while it had fresh characters and a strong voice, showed a distinct lack of talent for plot. So when I applied to MFA programs after a short career in documentary television, I decided Creative Nonfiction was the genre for me. When it came to fiction, I thought, I just wasn't that good. Best to accept it and move on.
From my MFA thesis came my first book, "I Do But I Don't" (nonfiction/memoir), which was published in 2006. After it was finished, however, I realized I didn't want to write something so explicitly personal again. (It didn't help that the book was about my wedding, and I have since gotten divorced. And no, I am not going to write "I Didn't.") Again I began to dream of fiction. Couldn't I try again?
During this time I attended my Stanford reunion. It was fascinating to go back to the campus, and I became especially interested in the years just before I arrived, when battles were raging about what to teach, and the "politically correct" movement (if it can be called that) was at its height. What a juicy setting for a novel, I thought. This is it!
I worked on the idea on and off for years, mostly doing research, conducting interviews, and taking lots of detailed notes. I struggled, however, to get past the research stage. Last fall I joined a writing group to try to force my own hand. But when it came time for me to submit, I had to admit defeat. I had a subject. I had a setting. But I didn't have a story.
Head hung, and realizing, again, that fiction wasn't my thing, I prepared to call my workshop leader and tell her: I got nothin.
And that's when the idea for the novel I'm working on now came to me. I had to let go, it seemed, before I could move on.
Has this happened to you? Is there an idea you worked on, and were sure was "the one", but had to let go? And how did you know it was time? Please share your stories. I would love to learn from you, since I am sure that if I ever write another novel, this will happen to me again...
Suggested past SW posts on that might illuminate the subject, ha ha:
Become An Instigator, from TAYARI JONES' "Surviving the Draft"
1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started, edited by the novelist MEG WAITE CLAYTON