How to Reinvent a Novel: Step One

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here, but I can explain: traveling turned my brain into a mushy kaleidoscope, and I’m waiting for the fairy dust to settle. More particularly, that kaleidoscope-hued fairy dust is shifting and settling into a completely reinvented novel, the novel, the one I can’t get out of my head, no matter how many times I write it.

The truth is, it’s never come out right. I’ve talked a lot about revising here before, about the figurative belly-flop where you just throw it all out there and see what kind of splash you can make. And sometimes, it works. Other times (read: what used to be most of the time) I’d worry too much about the invisible critic perched on my shoulder, which swallowed me whole. (Or made me swallow a bunch of water, if we’re still thinking in terms of belly-flops.) In short, it was scary. And hard to breathe. And nothing resembling the story in my head, the one that’s always been there, the one that’s finally taking shape, now that I’m allowing it.

All my life, I’ve had a hard time sitting still. When I was only a few weeks old, my mom says I started banging my head on the mattress inside my crib, over and over again, and it only escalated from there. I was always moving, dancing, playing, writing, creating…nonstop. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.)

So when I started writing my novel, the novel, my last year of college, my first thought was, “GO! Run as fast as you can across the page, Writing Hand! Scribble away until the pages begin to smoke, until your eyes begin to sting and your brain begins to melt, and then keep writing some more!” For several years this was how I wrote, caring more about other people’s opinions (including imaginary ones) than listening to my instincts, until I finally LOOKED at the brick of paper in front of me and didn’t recognize it as my own.

*Disclaimer: listening to writerly advice from others is important. The trick is finding the right balance of advice/instinct.

It wasn’t until I got off the writing treadmill that I could finally SEE my novel. (Forcibly, when I went abroad last summer.) And it was a revelation. I’d gone abroad to reinvent my novel, but I ended up spending those four months experiencing, not inventing. Soaking it all in, not pouring it out. Letting the kaleidoscope of my novel take shape in my head, and waiting to see how the dust settles. It’s settling.

So, step one of reinventing a novel is: do nothing. Or better yet, do something else, even if it’s just a day or two. Or a breath or two, just to remind yourself of what you’re writing and why it’s important.

I’m off to SCBWI’s Winter Conference in New York next week (with my dad!) and I can’t wait to meet other writers and friends, learn new advice and insights.

Experience other kaleidoscopes.