The Long and Winding Road

I’m on the fourth draft of this WIP. What makes the situation unique, for me, is that I haven’t finished the first draft yet.

Usually, when I write a novel, I go all the way to the end before making any significant changes. There have been exceptions. Sometimes I’ll get the feeling the book isn’t working. Not in a small, niggling way, but a big, ‘two plus two does not equal five’ way. The motivation isn’t quite right or the ultimate conflict—the plot climax or the ultimate relationship test—feels forced. At that point, I’ll load what I have onto my tablet, read it, try to pinpoint the moment the book goes off the rails and make some notes to redirect it. This happened with both To See the Sun and Purple Haze. It wasn’t a big deal. In the case of To See the Sun, I had to go back and add a villain, which meant fleshing out an existing character and giving him a larger role in the overall plot. Simply done. Purple Haze was a little more difficult, but once I solved Dillon’s GMC (what did he really want?), I figured out what he needed to, er, sacrifice to get it done.

He and Lang got their happy ever after, okay? That’s all you need to know.

This book… Take a deep breath with me and let it out again. Yeah. This book has been a journey.

My first draft set sail in fair winds and it was such a joy to be writing again after six months of starting a project, putting it aside, starting another, putting it aside, and generally feeling like I was done. While feeling done, I sent my daughter off to college and experienced new feelings. Not done ones, different ones. So I plotted a book about a couple of empty nesters who meet when they drop their kids off at college. Cute, right? Well, it should be. But, me being me, I immediately began to complicate things.

Being fair, most of my books include complications and it’s why I love writing them—and why I hope readers like reading them. It’s not just about finding The One. More often, for my characters, it’s about meeting The Potential One right as they’re trying to figure out their lives, usually for the fourth or fifth time. I love writing older characters, in their forties and fifties, and I know (being fifty-something myself) that few people have the luxury of only have to figure it all out just once.

I’m still figuring it out.

So, this book. I plotted my complications, loved on what I’d come up with, and started drafting. Merrily, I sailed past the 10k mark and then it was November and I figured I’d add another 50k to this puppy, no sweat.

Then I got to the part where my characters were going to kiss for the first time and it felt… off. They didn’t kiss. Okay, cool. They went to lunch instead. Then they hugged. Still fine, but what I essentially had was about five chapters of these guys talking. The book wasn’t really moving forward, but it was, but not quickly enough. I’m all for a slow burn romance, but this was glacial.

I backtracked a little, set them up again, got back to that scene, and they kissed. All good. Then they slept together and it was wrong, wrong, wrong. Too soon.

I backtracked a little more, thinking maybe one of the characters needed some more exploration before we got there. Arrived at the same scene, they kissed and it was such a great kiss. They didn’t sleep together. Or maybe they did? So. Many. Versions. Then they spent the night together and everything fell apart again.

What the heck? Were these guys not meant for each other? Was I writing two different books?

November ended and I got my extra 50k, but only by writing about 60k. All up, I had about 67k in the file. I’d dumped parts and rewritten parts. In December, I edited the first part, but when I got to those scenes, I felt as clueless as I had the first three times. So I took a break. I put the book aside and did the holiday thing. My daughter was home from college, and I was again feeling like I might be done.

Maybe I’d written all the books I was supposed to write. Maybe I needed to move on from romance? Maybe I should learn to knit instead.

But none of those ideas really appealed because I wanted to finish this book. I loved the idea of it, the characters I had conceived and their unique challenges. I started again. Read through the first few chapters, making a few changes, but not many. I had spent some time in December reevaluating my characters, who they were and what they were striving for, and felt more directed. Also, I had figured out, to some extent, what I’d been doing wrong.

It was a combination of things, really.

First of all, it never takes me this long to draft a book. For me, drafting tends to happen over a period of six to eight weeks (for 80,000 words) and it’s fairly intense. I live and breathe the book, talking to my characters in the shower, hopping out of bed at night to jot down snippets of dialogue and chapter openers, and dictating notes while I’m driving. My switch is ON and it doesn’t flick OFF until I’m done.

I tend to put a lot of myself into my characters, and often use them to examine various aspects of my life. They have my habits and quirks, they work professions I have either tried or would have liked to, they have big families like one half of mine, or no family at all, which reflects the absence of my mother. They’re older, not necessarily wiser; full of hope, but sometimes too easily diverted from their course; they’re shy and outgoing; they know what they want, or only think they do.

I could go over my backlist and point to each book and tell you what I was thinking about as I wrote it. What I was working through.

The last part of how I write is that with every book, aside from exploring myself, I always have some other, unique challenge that I want to tackle.

So, I’m drafting fairly quickly and intensely, focusing on a certain set of characteristics and trying to explore something new and different—but defined. The problem, for me, in working on the same book over such an extended period—it’s been over three months, or about eighteen weeks (OMG)—is that my focus has wavered and in some cases, shattered.

I have a lot going on outside the writing room. I’m way busier than I was when I wrote To See the Sun and the This Time Forever series. Each of those books had unique challenges, but none took me longer than ten weeks to draft. Chasing Forever took the longest because stuff was happening around the same time. A blizzard knocked out our power for ten days, I got the flu, and Riptide Publishing nearly collapsed. But I was near the end when all of that happened and only had to power through the last two weeks. That book did require more attention in the developmental edit phase, though.

This time I’ve been dealing with Dreamspinner Press not paying me for two quarters, republishing those books, and the implosion of the RWA, in which, as a chapter secretary and longtime member, I was directly involved. So, yeah, my focus might not have been super sharp.

But time is also a factor. What I’ve come to realize as I continue drafting the same book, over and over, is that a part of me wants to be done with this project so I can move on to the next one and try something new. There are so many themes I want to explore. So many character types. Dozens and dozens of interesting situations. And I keep trying to put them in this book. All of them. I keep making these poor characters too complicated. I am writing two books at the same time. Or three, or four. When, really, I can only write one. And I want to write this one. I quite like this one.

Today, I hit the 49k mark with this WIP. It’s the fourth time writing some scenes, the second time others. The book isn’t markedly different from the previous versions, except in one important way—it’s simpler. I’ve narrowed my focus again and have started slicing away the parts that weren’t working, that need to be saved for other books.

The chapter I wrote today brings me nearly up to date. I have one more chapter to write in order to return to the farthest point reached by a previous draft. Then I’ll be in completely new territory again. I’m excited about this because I have a plan for the next chapter and the next one (totally new!) and the next one and the next one. After that, I’ll be about ready to sink this ship and watch my characters swim to shore. What? It’s a romance. I have to test them.

Point is, I’m back on course. I’m writing about 10k a week and have a firm deadline of February 14th to finish this draft. I can’t wait to read it back over. It won’t be perfect, far from it. But it will be finished.

As for the other books I want to write? I’ve started taking my notebook downstairs in the afternoon, where I sit in the sunny spot at the kitchen table and let my imagination roam. I’m fleshing out the city of Zhemosen (To See the Sun) and figuring out what Price’s journey is going to be. I’ve named his opposite number, and yesterday, I started poking around the edges of who he is and what his journey is going to be.

What I’m loving about sitting downstairs, away from the laptop and distraction, is that this project feels very separate from my current WIP, as it should. I have worked on two books at the same time before and often end up in different stages of drafting and development on a number of projects concurrently. It’s not unusual to be drafting one book while editing another and promoting a third. In the past, though, I’ve always done all of that at the same desk.

I honestly can’t say whether shifting my other project downstairs, away from my desk, is what’s making all of this work. It could just be that with the New Year, I’ve discovered a new focus. Or that I eventually got so tired of myself that I just buckled down and got to work.

But this is working and it makes sense that it’s working and I’m really enjoying my time with a notebook and pen. I often make notes this way, but nearly always plot at the laptop. This is so much freer. I can flip a page and make a note for something else, then flip back and continue figuring out why Price is living in the Undercity and what will motivate him to journey topside. I’m not distracted by my WIP or Facebook.

And, as is my habit, I’m sharing this revelation in the hopes it might help someone else. Or maybe you all already knew how to get through this pass, snow be damned. If so, throw a line my way. I’m right behind you.


Published by Kelly Jensen

Writer of love stories. Bibliophile. Gamer. Hiker. Cat herder. Waiting for the aliens. 👽 🏳️‍🌈

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