I’ve brought Rumpled, my Rumplestiltskin retelling, through what is close to its final revision … for now. That is, I’ve implemented everything I intended to implement based on feedback from my writer’s group, and am ready to send it to someone who has never seen it for a proofread (my eyes might fall out of my head if I read it one more time at this point.) I still need to format it for Kindle and do a little more work on the cover, but in the meantime, I’ve uploaded the “beta” version to Wattpad. It’s free there, so I’d be delighted if you checked it out!
Although I hate to do it, I find my writerly energies pulled in too many different directions right now, so I’m taking a break from Rapunzel. Ironically, this is the story I most want to be working on, and I think that’s ultimately why I have to do this — so I can free myself up for it properly by wrapping up a few loose ends — the completion of my Rumpled ebook and a new piece for a contest I’m entering. I’m hoping Rapunzel will feel like my “reward” after all of this, that the time away will only increase my enthusiasm, and that we won’t come together feeling like strangers when everything settles.
And as of last Saturday night, I’m also wrestling with a somewhat offhand comment my husband made as we drove home from an out-of-town wedding, a comment that made me re-envision the entire Rapunzel story. Different setting, different time. I began to wonder if I was doing this all wrong. It fed into a bit of insecurity I’ve had about the story for a couple months now, as I think about retellings in which Cinderella is a Cyborg, Sleeping Beauty is traveling through space, and Red Riding Hood hunts werewolves. Against stories like this, my own retelling seems quaintly traditional, staying close to the time, place, and structure of the original Grimm’s tale. I found myself often asking, Is it different enough to hold any interest, to bring anything new to the table?
Recasting it in light of Ivan’s comments would take care of that issue, but I’m still don’t feel ready to go in that direction. I’ve made so many changes already between drafts 1 and draft 1.5-ish that I kind of want to see how my new vision pans out before I do a complete overhaul of it. As I talked to Ivan about this on our drive, he said, “Why don’t you write both? Finish the one you’re working on now, and then write the other one, and see which one you like better.”
I thought, But do you know how much work it is just to write one novel, let alone two, just for the basis of comparison?
And yet, it wasn’t long before I felt like that was the course I wanted to take. There’s a reason this story won’t let me go, in its current form … and I’m going to stick with it long enough to see what that is.
In the meantime, that car conversation gave me ample fodder for many Novembers to come.
At about this time last month, I planted my first garden since moving to South Dakota, and my second garden in my whole life. My first garden was almost 100% neglected, and I still got some vegetables at the end of the summer, which taught me that cucumbers and zucchini are the best veggies for a negligent gardener.
This year, I resolved to do better. Except.
I let the whole month pass with very little weeding.
The lack of weeding was, admittedly, partly due to laziness. But it was also due to inexperience. When I first started seeing green sprout up from the patch of dirt, I was elated. Something was growing! I watered profusely. Everything in the garden grew. And grew. And grew. Until I started to suspect that a lot of what I saw were weeds. (I didn’t recognize them right away because I’m so inexperienced with gardening that I didn’t know what the vegetables I planted were supposed to look like when they first came up.)
Yesterday, we bought a hoe at Big Lots, and I took it out to do some serious weeding.
There was a moment of despair when I realized 85% of that green I’d been so proud of a few weeks ago had grown into ugly, insistent weeds. In fact, the whole garden seemed to be monstrous weeds. There was a moment when I wondered whether there was even a point to tackling it.
But I’d promised my husband I would if he cleaned the bathroom, and the bathroom was already gleaming.
So, I put the new hoe to work.
I was brutal.
I chopped through the weed canopy until I noticed that, underneath it all, there were some plants that looked, well, different.
Underneath it all, cilantro, carrots, beets, green beans, watermelon, sugar snap peas, and cucumber were making a go of it, despite the hostile weeds.
I got down on my knees then and started doing precision weeding, carefully separating the weeds from the vegetables, pulling the weeds up by the roots and tossing them aside. My frustration started to dissolve. The work started to feel rewarding. There was something worth saving after all!
I couldn’t help but be reminded of the writing (and especially the rewriting) process.
Often, a first draft looks very much like that garden overrun by weeds, especially a first draft penned during NaNoWriMo. It’s easy to write it off, to decide that it’s just not worth the trouble. But then when you go in and get your hands dirty, chopping down the “weeds” of unnecessary scenes and cumbersome sentence constructions, you can start to see some beautiful themes and words and images hiding in their midst. You start to feel a sense of satisfaction. You start to see something worthwhile emerge from the mess. The work starts to feel like it is worth something. And then, it’s much, much easier to continue.
Most of us start each new writing project the way I started my garden — hopeful, excited, a little scared, very naive, and then deliriously elated when something, anything starts to take shape … to be subsequently overwhelmed when you realize that maybe what you’ve been cultivating isn’t what you wanted after all.
Or maybe it is, if you look a little closer, and aren’t afraid to chop and pull mercilessly until you’re reminded that the good stuff really was there, all along.
Last week after I finished a scene on my Rapunzel novel, I was struck with the conviction: I have to research now.
My initial plan with Rapunzel was to do as much research as possible before NaNoWriMo began last November. I was able to do some research, but not as much as I wanted, because I was also trying to finish another draft of Rumpled. Then in November, of course, there was no time for even the most basic research–writing was pretty much my only option if I wanted to finish. That was okay, though–I could research between drafts. Except somehow, March and NaNoEdMo were upon me as if December, January, and February had never happened. So I was putting in over 10 hours a week editing Rapunzel without the time to do the research I’d wanted to do then, either, although I did stop here and there to do a spot of research as needed, mainly into European growing seasons and other garden-related trivia.
I’ve never written something that requires massive research, such as historical fiction novel or novel that incorporates real people as characters. Even though what I write is primarily speculative fiction, I’ve still managed to keep a lot of the human experiences close enough to home that I could get away with not researching except as needed for certain scenes (scenes in one of my past novels that involved curing pork and assembling guns come to mind.)
I don’t think Rapunzel necessarily needs more than this level of research. Although it takes place in a vaguely medieval European world, the actual kingdoms are imaginary, and no specific dates are mentioned, nor any real historical events. Still, there’s something that’s telling me to stop and go deeper at this point, and I’m going to listen to my gut. This story has taken hold of me in a way that nothing has for years, so I’m going to let it continue to lead the way and see what happens.
My research primarily takes two paths. The first investigates the “Maiden in the Tower” motif to which Rapunzel belongs, more deeply exploring the pervasiveness and commonalities of these stories (to that end, I’ve recently ordered a book by the same name both through Interlibrary Loan and Amazon.com). The second one centers on medieval witchcraft trials. I was surprised that I needed to go beyond my local library to find good information on the latter, as I live within the largest library system in South Dakota. Still, it seems most of the witchcraft resources that exist focus on the Salem Witch Trials. I find this an interesting turn, since those witch trials were the descendants of their European predecessors; far fewer witches were tried in Salem than in medieval Europe, and yet somehow those are the trials that loom largest in the public imagination. Is it just the ethnocentrism of living in the U.S. that makes other witchcraft history hard to get hold of?
And then, somewhat unintentionally, I’ve also begun some hands-on research. Last week, it finally stopped raining long enough for me to plant a garden. A witch’s garden figures prominently into nearly all versions of Rapunzel, so of course it’s a central setting for my novel as well, comprising one of the few places outside the tower that Rapunzel has ever experienced. I’ve never been much of a gardening enthusiast myself, but I am an enthusiast of fresh, cheap produce, so for me the garden is just a means to that end. I had a garden a couple years ago that I woefully neglected that produced vegetables in spite of that, and I was halfway expecting this garden to take the same route. And yet, already I’m feeling a greater sense of investment in this garden. Is it because it’s dependent only upon me, when I had my sister and my dad sharing responsibility for my former garden? Is it because I planted every single seed myself? Or am I perhaps channeling a bit of “Mama” (Mother Gothel in the original), who loves her garden with the same fierceness with which she loves Rapunzel? In one scene, Mama justifies taking Rapunzel because of the way her biological father treated plants:
“Your father was cruel, Rapunzel,” Mama said once, throwing aside weeds she had just pulled. “He didn’t even bring anything for clipping the rampion. He just ripped it out of the ground, roots and all. And when I confronted him, his arms full to bursting, he became whiter than a slug’s belly. He blamed his wife, and her desperate cravings. And I thought, if this man cannot be gentle with these living creatures–” Mama spread her hand to indicate all that bloomed around her–“then how could he be fit to care for a tiny babe?”
I was surprised to feel that same sort of protectiveness as I dropped tiny seeds onto the ground, then gently covered them with dirt. Here’s hoping I have a little bit of Mama’s talent with coaxing abundant and nourishing food out of them as well–although I could do without the fanaticism.
Last night, I came home from the Easter festivities bearing a headache from too much sugar but still determined to log my last two hours to achieve victory in NaNoEdMo … even though editing was really the last thing in the world I wanted to do.
Still, I was mostly dismayed (but, admittedly, also relieved), when a glitch in the NaNoEdMo site closed the deadline early — meaning that when I tried to log time at 9 pm CDT, I got a message that said, “NaNoEdMo is closed for 2013. Join us next year!”
There I was, 48 hours in, time set aside to finish … with no chance to get my external validation for those last two hours. My recourse? To complain to my husband, report it on the NaNoEdMo “bug” forums, whine on Twitter (brand new account! Follow me @laceylouwagie), and … not put in my final two hours of editing.
I’m not proud of it, but my reasoning went something like this:
- 48 hours in 31 days is STILL good progress, and my main reason for pushing those final two hours was a) curiosity to see what “winners” got; and b) the external validation and official bragging rights.
- Without items a & b, I was just as happy to say, “Yay me, I got 48 hours in 31 days, it’s NaNoEdMo’s Fault and Not Mine That I Didn’t Officially Win.”
- And, Now I can catch up on all the email I didn’t read in March!
Except, the NaNoEdMo folks have been very responsive, and hour logging is now open until 6 pm today to make up for the error. Which means, I still have two hours of editing to squeeze in at some point today. I was ready to simply pronounce my defeat to the world here on my blog this morning, but it looks like that would be premature. I’ll be doing two more hours of editing today after all. Yay?
Luckily, I’ve already written today’s poem, so that’s out of the way. Because right on the heels of NaNoEdMo is the next writing challenge of the year — NaPoWriMo! I consistently fail NaPoWriMo, I think because I don’t take myself seriously as a poet. I don’t read much poetry, and frankly, I don’t think anyone has much of a right to write in a genre they don’t read. But I continue to attempt NaPoWriMo anyway because I believe poetry is good for the soul, good for capturing the state of a life at a moment in time, and good for giving as gifts in people’s birthday cards. Usually I have intentions of posting my poetry from NaPoWriMo here, but then it always ends up being too personal. This morning’s poem was no different — but I did feel especially blessed to have a particularly evocative dream last night that I could plagiarize for poetry.
My car is equipped with poetry inspiration for the month, which includes Modern Scholar’s Understanding Poetry lectures and the She Walks in Beauty audiobook. It’s the first day of the month, I’ve written one poem, poetry drafts take less time than editing, and I’m not getting married this year — so, I’m feeling optimistic. 🙂
Now, back to untangle my way toward victory at NaNoEdMo.
As I feared might happen, NaNoEdMo is kicking my butt. Although I’m only slightly behind schedule, finding a “catch-up” time in the near future seems bleak. I was right when I predicted that the requirement of actually putting in the time would make this harder for me than NaNoWriMo, where my ability to write quickly works in my favor. Based on how much I’ve been able to edit in about 1 1/2 hrs every day (minus Thursdays, which is why I’m behind), I’m beginning to suspect I’m a slow editor. It’s never been quite so obvious to me that rewriting takes significantly longer than drafting.
I’ve gotten a little stuck rewriting Rapunzel (the prince is in the midst of a psychological makeover), so I returned to Rumpled, which has been resting since the beginning of the month. Working through draft 5, I’m beginning to notice a few things about my process:
- Editing is REALLY, REALLY important. It was so nice to be able to breeze through pages of Rumpled without hitting snags, as compared to all the untangling (pun intended) I’m still working on with Rapunzel. If ever I doubted the value of editing (ha, and put myself out of a job?), this experience has confirmed it once more.
- I notice a troubling trend in my writing — and that’s that the reading experience gets less smooth the deeper into the story I get. I think this is because the opening sections have been reworked MANY times, as I start from the beginning with edits every time I’ve taken significant time away from the project. Still, it was disheartening to find myself making so many markups in the second half of Rumpled, including some that required yet more deeper-level content editing.
- Becoming a proficient writer is definitely a lifelong process. I’m convinced that I’ll never arrive at a point in a story where I truly feel done — as close as I thought I was with Rumpled, my latest read has raised some doubts. This is alternately inspiring and depressing, depending on my mood.
I think I might have to accept just finishing below 50 editing hours this month. I’m telling myself that putting in 40 hours (or however much I end up with) in one month is STILL significant progress. But my Inner Competitor grumbles.
Something will have to give, and I just haven’t decided what it will be yet. Will I allow myself to make less money this week? Will I do the bare minimum for my Coursera class? (I really hope not — this week is Freud, and I love Freud!). Will I be antisocial and hole up with my computer or e-reader at the Easter festivities? (Easter, WHY couldn’t you hold off till April this year like you have so many times in the past?) By this time next week, I’ll know.
Well, March is just a little over halfway over, and I’m barely a smidgen over the halfway mark for NaNoEdMo, clocking in this morning at 26.88 hours out of 50.
Despite putting in an hour and a half per day, the edits sometimes feel as if they are happening excruciatingly slowly. I guess that’s to be expected when one is revising not just any first draft, but one that was written during the “anything goes!” frenzy of NaNoWriMo. Still, it kind of boggles my mind to know that it took me less time to write this story than to edit it — by the midpoint in November, I had made it further writing than I’ve made this month editing, despite the fact that I’m actually putting in more time. That’s right, it takes more time to rearrange words than it takes to throw them all over the page.
I’m also noticing something interesting about working on Rapunzel for my NaNoEdMo project. It’s starting to feel claustrophobic. It’s sometimes excruciating to spend an hour and a half in that tower every day, with only Rapunzel, her cat, and the witch for company. That hour and a half often crawls by. When the timer goes off, I’m usually eager to leave. Free at last!!
But when you do a writing challenge like this, and must return to your project in a dedicated way day after day after day, regardless of what else you’re trying to accomplish as your life continues to go on around you, you’re not ever really free of it. And I think that’s why these challenges work so well for those who choose to accept them. And I’ve found that although I’m not a huge fan of competition, I’m incredibly competitive against myself, so I rarely let myself off the hook when I take on these projects even though there isn’t nay “real” consequence for failing to finish them (you know, the way there are “real” consequences for if I don’t make as much money as I should this month.)
Overall, this has been a very rich experience for me with this particular story because it drives home the isolation and claustrophobia of the tower in a way that working on it a little here, a little there, as time and life allows, never could. Even NaNoWriMo didn’t really impress it on me. Although I had to return to it every day, my output was frantic, stream-of-consciousness, and rushed. I could skim the surface, throw those words down, and get the hell out as soon as possible.
Rapunzel didn’t have that option. And I’m getting a taste of what that must have been like this month.