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What If the Next Novel Isn't the Next Novel?
On maybe shifting gears (or driving two vehicles at once?)
The summer has not gone how I expected. I had this aggressive but (I thought) doable summer schedule. I had hope! I had optimism!
It’s been a great summer, but it hasn’t been a summer with enough space or time for an unwieldy novel that spans three time periods and takes place in two cities and contains ten half-plots. I thought if I could just sustain my June momentum I might be able to get to a full first draft, but from where I stand right now, that draft feels very far away.
I’ve been writing, though. I worked with my agent to prep my nonfiction manuscript for submission to editors. I researched, wrote, and published an interview with an icon. (I adore doing interviews — especially when I love the book — and I think I’m really good at them, but they take SO MUCH time.) I’ve also been working on a hybrid book review/essay, which is a form I haven’t tried before. And then I’ve been working on this new novel…
I know, I KNOW. Why do I think I have time for a new novel when the one I’ve been talking to y’all about here is stuck in limbo? The answer comes down to three things.
Energy. I have never fully articulated any kind of philosophy of writing, but if I were to do that, part of it would probably be “follow the energy.” When I’m in workshops, that’s always my question — where did you feel lots of energy? Where does the energy lag? I’ve got hands in a lot of projects right now, so I’m just applying these same questions to where I’m choosing to put my time. At this moment, I’m feeling more energy around this new novel, and I’m hoping that more energy leads to more flow and more ease.
Scope. Every book project is different. The manuscript I’ve been fondly calling We Built This City is bigger in scope than anything I have ever worked on. It’s ambitious and requires a lot of research and it deals with themes that I’m actively working through on a personal level, so there’s a lot of skin in the game. I can’t rush it because I can’t rush becoming the person I need to be to write it the way I want to write it.
This new novel project has a narrower scope. It’s still got big themes — I’ll get to those in the coming weeks — but it’s only got one (relatively) straightforward, linear plot and it takes place in one location. I’m hoping this means it will be easier to hold the whole thing in my head and to jump in and out of it.
Accountability. So here’s the really big news about this new novel: I’m working on it with my dear friend Anna! I have never collaborated on a piece of writing before, let alone tried to write a whole novel with someone else, so I have no idea how this is going to go, but I’m excited about it!
I’ve been talking about a writers’ room for novels for so long, and my writing group is still experimenting with that. But actually committing to one other person, working together to develop the characters and break the story… it’s kind of magical? I kind of love it so far? I’ll get more into the details of our arrangement in the coming weeks, but essentially the plan is for me to send pages to Anna at a regular cadence, so there’s a timeline and built-in accountability. Our first draft will not drag on for years because I refuse to that to my friend!
I’m not abandoning We Built This City — no way. What I’m hoping is that this new novel kickstarts something in me so that when it’s drafted I can turn back to WBTC with new eyes and fresh energy. My ideal scenario would be that I get so pumped to work on WBTC again that this new draft goes very quickly. Maybe I even get into a rhythm where I can work on both at once.
So, what if the next novel is not the next novel? I suppose I’ll find out.
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