Friday, February 11, 2005

The Practice Story

Two years ago, and I can remember it was January, I sat down at my PC and said, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to write a book.” For years – my entire life, really – I have had stories floating in my brain. And for the first time I figured I might as well try and put one of them on paper. See if I had the right stuff, because everyone knows that the gap between a story-in-the-brain and a book is approximately the distance between Los Angeles and Tokyo.

I wrote. Every free minute I got, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I did research. I plotted and drew family trees. It was great. So great, in fact that I finished all but maybe 10% of the book, and it’s not even a hard 10% left to do.

Fast forward to today. In those two years since I first sat down to write, I’ve learned a lot. Since I’d decided to give the professional writing thing a fair go, I jumped in with both feet. I’ve read easily fifty books on writing, not including all the grammar books. It takes only a nanosecond for me to get distracted while on-line by any website offering writing tips and advice. I now read novels with a completely different focus (and in the process have become highly critical) because I know there is actually an art to this writing thing. I can spot problems from a mile away, name them, and even have ideas how to fix them. In a nutshell, I’ve really studied.

So, looking at that manuscript I so lovingly spilled out on paper? Holy cow, is it bad. I mean, baaaddd. I wince when I read it now. Can’t believe I’d ever thought to show anyone – thank God I never did get that far.

Here’s the deal. I still like that story. I loved the premise and the characters. Loved the twists and turns I had so carefully plotted. When I read what I've written, once I get past the bad writing (a whole heck of a lot of telling the story and barely any showing, pacing is horrible, dialogue weak, etc.) I get totally absorbed in the story itself. It's a book I'd like to read. Kind of like I wish I could dictate it to a really, really good writer who would do it justice just so I could then buy the book and read the story.

Except, today I came to realize that my story includes not only a secret baby but an amnesia line as well. What’s so hysterical about that was that I wrote this story long before I had read a word on any romantic novels genre website about the overabundance of such storylines. Some innate thing inside me steered me immediately toward those clichés (which is a topic for a whole other blog). But...that's a side issue. I'm just saying it struck me as funny that I'd done that automatically.

My question to myself is this. Do I forget that manuscript? Stick it under the bed like any self-respecting writer-in-training and focus on new things, new ideas. I have them. But there is something so compelling right now about going back to those 300 plus already written pages and using that idea that I still love. Rewriting it. Making it better now that I know how. Seeing if I really do have something. Or is that just a humongous waste of my time? That was my practice run.

I look at it like this – my first book is kind of like the gorgeous, wonderful rebound guy. You sure hate to waste him on something you know has no future. You’d rather save him until you’re healed and ready to commit again. I hate the idea that I wasted a cool story and some great characters on practice. They’ll never see the light of day just because I wasn’t ready for them when I wrote them. Now I’m ready, and I want them back. Is it too late?

I don’t know. I really don’t have the answer to that.

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