by Christina Lay
I have a confession to make. I’ve completed 15 novels and novellas; some of them are even published. This does not include an indeterminate number of drawer novels, those hideous beasties who lurk forever in a state of suspended animation waiting for my fickle brain to become interested in them again. But they are important too, because they represent hundreds of hours of learning the hard way.
I’ve done a lot of hard-way learning. One would think that at this point I would have mastered the art of noveling—or as some people call it, “writing”—but the process of bringing a novel into the world is an ever-evolving, ever-elusive endeavor, and there is no end point, no graduation ceremony after which you will forever breeze through the process of writing like a mature, unruffled professional. No, writing is an exciting ride, a roller coaster of surprises, a minefield of potential failures, a vale of tears.
Recently, I did another dance with The Wall. You know. The one that stops you. This one stopped me for longer than usual. During this Winter of My Worst Novel Ever, I penned the following ripoff of the famous 12 Steps of Alcoholism Anonymous. May they come to your aid during your next Worst Novel Ever.
The 12 Steps of Getting Over Yourself and Finishing the Damn Novel
- Admitted we were powerless over the plot, and that our novel had become unmanageable
- Came to believe that a really good book on craft could restore us to sanity
- Made a decision to turn our plot and our characters over to the care of a workshop or writing group, and to try and utilize their critiques as we understood them
- Made a searching and analytical inventory of our novel
- Admitted to our muse, to ourselves, and to our writing group the exact nature of our screw-ups
- Were entirely ready to ruthlessly cut these defects of plot
- Humbly asked our writing group to help us
- Made a list of all the places we had gone wrong, and became willing to remove all of our adverbs
- Made direct cuts wherever possible, except when to do so would injure the story or character development
- Continued to take an honest inventory and when we went wrong, promptly corrected our course
- Sought through writing groups and workshops to improve our storytelling abilities as we understood them, gathering the knowledge of how to write and the caffeine to carry those ideas to fruition
- Having had an awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others by participating in a writing group, leading workshops, writing articles, and by using what we learned in all our writing affairs