Thursday, February 17, 2011

Soooo, Are You Still Writing That Book?

Ahh, the question I both love and dread, "Are you still writing 'that book?'"

Yes, Good Reader, I am indeed still writing that book. I'm terrible with updates so I thought today I'd let you know how it's been going. I just finished up rewriting the first two chapters in first person with a protagonist now a decade younger than she once was. Hurray! Happy dance!

The thing is, I had tricked myself into thinking that this revision would mostly require careful switches from "she" to "I", changing the protagonist's job to a summer internship before college, and then one major plot point about 3/4 in. I mean, an agent and editor had already told me that my writing lent itself well to young adult, so these little tweaks were all I needed, right?

Oh, how wrong I was!

Almost every single sentence in the novel is brand new. The major things that I kept were the names of characters and the basic plot and pacing.

The most crucial aspect of the revision has been my main character Maggie's personality and outlook on life. It goes without saying that a seventeen-year-old has a very different perspective on life than a twenty-seven-year-old (even a particularly pragmatic and cautious seventeen-year-old, like Maggie). She hasn't had all that time to become jaded and resigned to her lot in life. She's frustrated but still hopeful. I like her a lot.

In a way, I feel relieved. It's like I'm rewriting history: Maggie's adventure begins ten years earlier, so she never becomes the woman I once wrote about.

Oddly, her relationship to her sister hasn't changed much despite the fact that now Rory is the older sister, not the younger one.

The tricky part of this revision is that sometimes I sit down to write and I forget that Maggie is seventeen, that I am now writing about her before she could fall in love with that guy in college who is never going to love her enough not to take that job in Seattle, before she could give up on her dreams of changing the world. It's like writing in an alternate universe.

My next challenge is a major plot point: memory loss. When I was writing about a responsible adult, the memory loss was upsetting but not truly scary. Maggie was self possessed, practical. She could take care of herself. But how do I deal with memory loss for a seventeen-year-old?

Because of the circumstances of the novel, the reader could (wrongly) fear that Maggie has been the victim of date rape. I don't want to romanticize memory loss but neither do I want to bog down the plot with lecturing. I can feel the latent mother in me worrying about what kind of "message" I'm sending to my future readers. For the moment I'm mulling it over, trying to see if I can tweak the plot enough to address the seriousness of the situation while also reassuring the reader that Maggie's quest to recover her memories is going to reveal something exciting, not something terrifying.

Anyway, that's how "that book" is going. Thanks for asking, for wondering, for caring!


  1. ahem, ahem. i think you know what i'm going to say here?

    also, this was a very interesting post. for a number of reasons.

  2. Wellll technically I still have a couple paragraphs at the end of chapter two to finish up. Maggie goes to 47 1/2 Wayward Street alone now, so she must unlock the gate herself. Hoping to do that this morning...

    And thanks! This whole process has been really interesting.

  3. Wow, that sounds dreadfully difficult. My first novel was in the first-person, and I remember the hardest part was trying balance the truth I wanted the reader to know against the flawed perception and self-awareness of the narrator. Switching your voice from an all-knowing third person to the first is basically writing a whole new book. Jeez..., that's a tough task, but I'm sure it'll all be worth it when you're done and it's perfect! Keep it up...

  4. Thanks, Tom! I don't mind the work so long as I think it was worth it in the end. The worst would be to finish and then think, "Huh. You know, third person was so much better." AHHHH

    But, um hello!? I didn't know you were a writer! Serious writers don't say things like "my first novel." I can only imagine the amazing things you would write, I only know that they would be awesome. So spill...

  5. Thanks, Tom!! What you said about balancing is exactly what I've been trying to figure out. It's so different from third. I think it does lend itself well to YA though. The reader is more willing (I hope) to accept the flawed perceptions of a teenager.

    But, more importantly, I had no idea you were a writer! I'm intrigued. This means nothing but good for readers everywhere. Spill, won't you?