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New Writerly Experience – Rather Not Experience It Again.

I’ve been at a writers workshop/retreat since last Sunday.  Overall it’s been a wonderful experience.  Incredibly talented, funny, smart people.  The Sangre de Cristo mountains surrounding the lodge,  snowfalls, hikes, and amazing gourmet dinners.  What wasn’t so wonderful was realizing that the experiences of the past few years had affected me far more deeply then I had realized. 

I knew I had struggled with the second urban fantasy novel — BOX OFFICE POISON.  I think the only thing that got me through was the fact I had a pretty tight outline which meant I just went into my office, checked the scenes that needed to be written and did my job.  I chalked up the problems to new sub-genre, getting to know new characters etc.

The problem was the third EDGE book.  I knew it wasn’t right, and while there has been some forward progress I just kept writing and rewriting the first fifty thousand words.  I moved scenes and chapters around.  I wrote a new first chapter.  In short, I was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

_And all the time I knew what was wrong._

The whole thing was starting too slowly.  It was bogged down with backstory as I struggled to not confuse new readers or bore old readers.  I had several people who were not familiar with the books read the first chapters.  They kept asking for more.  So I wrote a new chapter that gave them more.  The problem was that I wasn’t actually addressing the problem.  The new readers didn’t actually want more explanation and backstory.  What they wanted was to be swept up in the story.  If that had happened they wouldn’t mind not having a lot of background detail.

I knew all this, but I didn’t trust my own judgment any longer.  I no longer had confidence in my skills and abilities.  When you deliver a book and don’t hear back for months, even years the little whispering voices start in.  _It sucks so bad that the editor has no idea how to fix it.  They don’t want to tell you it’s a disaster._  Intellectually you know that’s crazy.  You know that other events are occurring, but writers are fragile and neurotic little things, so ultimately it all comes back to you and you beat yourself up.  I suppose we can’t help it because when you write you are pouring out your deepest feelings and beliefs onto the page.  Harlan calls it opening a vein.  I phrase it as “if you don’t want people to know your psychological state, don’t write.”  Because writing is an incredibly personal act.  So of course we take it personally when books fail.

What I heard at Rio Hondo was what I already knew.  (Though the amazing Jim Kelly pointed out that I step on scenes that I have nicely set up by not trusting my readers to get what I’m doing.) 

So, now I have to go home and see if I can actually apply the fix.  And I’m scared.  What if I can’t?  What if my own fears and insecurities have left me frozen or worse incapable of anything except dithering?

Because that was what happened on Box Office.  I doubted every scene I wrote.  I just knew it wasn’t adding up to a coherent whole.  Fortunately I had a contract, and I take deadlines very seriously so I just gritted my teeth and pushed forward.  But on Edge there isn’t a contract yet.  There’s me fearing that the failure of the series had little to do with the delays at my publisher, and were all my fault. 

So wish me luck.  Tomorrow I’m going to sit down in my office, and start all over.  I hope I can salvage some of what I’ve written, but if I have to I’m going to burn this down to the ground and start all over.  And in here somewhere I have to plot the third urban fantasy, and get that written by March 15th 2012.

Or maybe the rapture will occur and what with the coming Tribulations I won’t have time to worry about the writer’s life.  Yeah, that’s real likely.

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