This weekend, I came clean and admitted something terrible to my wife.
I was no longer enjoying writing. I was even thinking of stopping altogether.
For weeks now, when I opened my Scrivener project file, I didn’t feel joy. Or happiness. Or fulfillment. Or the need to eat papaya, though that was never really a thing so I guess I shouldn’t bemoan the lack of papaya urges.
What I was feeling was dread.
Dread that the story I was trying to hammer out, tentatively titled Quality Jones and the Time Keepers, just wasn’t going to make sense no matter how much I tried hammering. And wow, was I hammering away. Hell, I even tried getting hammered to see if that got the creative juices flowing. It didn’t, though I ended up writing what I swore at the time was avant garde Hungarian poetry.
The problem was that I’d already written the mandatory crappy first draft a while back. And in my mind, I was now on the mandatory “less crappy, maybe even good” second draft. In theory, I thought, this draft should be a lot closer to the all-important “almost good enough to publish” third draft. No pressure or nothing, right?
But I couldn’t shake the sense that the story just wasn’t making sense. Partly because I’d underestimated how convoluted a story can quickly get when there are multiple antagonists, multiple plot twists, multiple subplots, and, oh, multiple timelines as a result of reckless time travel.
I also couldn’t shake the sense that my lead character, Quality Jones, was a total a-hole who’d quickly turn the reader off.
All of this was giving me anxiety as I tried hammering out this second draft. See, there were so many elements from the first draft that I’d become married to, but that now weren’t working too well with the new backstory I’d given Quality to make her more sympathetic. I wasn’t ready to abandon those things I loved, and so, night after night, I looked at Scrivener project file and thought, “Holy shit…ake mushrooms, this is SO not working.”
Writing stopped being fun. It had become the dreaded “w” word. No, not wonton soup. Work.
Worst of all, I started thinking this story wouldn’t work. Ever. That I had wasted a year on a novel that was cracking beneath the weight of its own insanity. That nothing I did could save this story.
After my morning confession, my wife, awesome coach and counselor that she has become, asked, “What is it about this story that you love so much?”
Well, there’s Quality Jones and her talking cat, for one. Oh, and her interactions with her best friend, Sally Forth, a demure, mousy dominatrix. Oh, and her interactions with her perfect husband. And, OH, the fact that she befriends a horny demon named Sexual Steve. And, OH, the fact that there’s time travel and a 6-year-old President and…
My wife, noting that I clearly had a LOT of things that I loved, encouraged me to ask myself why I loved these things, and why I thought they couldn’t work in my novel. More to the point, what did I need to do to love what I was doing again?
It was food for thought as I went on a 6-mile run, which proved plenty of time to have a spouse-facilitated epiphany or two.
I thought about The Perfect Teresa and how I’d loved writing that story because I got to write about things I loved. Time travel. The 80s. My childhood in NYC. And, of course, heavy metal.
I then started thinking about what I loved writing about Quality Jones. While there were many things about the story that I loved, the one that kept coming up was the relationship between Quality and her judgmental talking cat. After all, that relationship was the origin of the entire Quality Jones concept, and the one constant throughout the story’s many iterations.
By mile 3, I started to realize that the book was about Quality’s relationships with a whole cast of zany characters. She’s the epicenter of absurdity and chaos, and she’s able to navigate through it all with spunk, intelligence, some divine/demonic intervention, and just a little bit of a-holery.
And then, as mile 4 crept up, it finally hit me. The new backstory wasn’t fitting with the first draft because it was more than just backstory. These were essential character relationships that provided the necessary buildup toward the overall story arc.
I suddenly realized that I loved my novel again…as a book 2. The story I needed to write now was book 1.
By mile 5, I was generating ideas at a faster clip than my run.
By mile 5.5, I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my wife the good news.
That I was giddy with excitement, and that I had rediscovered the passion to get back on Scrivener and start writing again. Not by hammering ill-fitting plot points into place, but by re-embracing the things I loved to write about in the first place and letting that passion tell the story.
So I guess it’s true what they say about writing what you love. That you need to write what you love in order to stave off the urge for papaya. Oh, and write good stuff. That too.