Illustration by Eleanor Taylor
Two big things have happened this week that have signified to me a beginning of a new era. For me. A step-up in my writing process. An ascendance onto a new level (sounds grand, eh?). You know, like if you imagined climbing a mountain that had a series of staircases carved into it, each staircase ending in a big plat platform that you have to traverse to get to the next staircase. So when you start out, you think only about the steps, but when you get to the end of the first staircase, you realize what you've been climbing for the last four years is only one staircase. So that's where I am, on that first platform, looking up at the next staircase to climb.
I went to see Victoria Schwab whom I admire and who is a huge inspiration. Just looked at her ironclad dedication to her craft. The editing-process screenshots she's sharing on Twitter will make the hairs move on your head from all the red in them. And then of course, she is a New York Times bestselling author! That is my goal, to get there. Victoria talked about her drafting process, which is what I ask every writer about, trying to glimpse some secrets I can steal and apply to my own writing. And Victoria said that she used to throw away a lot of writing. In case of her first novel, an entire draft. It had to be rewritten anew. Then at some point she decided she didn't want to throw away so much writing anymore, that she used to go 20-30K words in the wrong direction, and now it's only about 2-3K words. Now her first drafts are skeletal, the emotional cores of her characters (I hope I got this right, I don't remember exactly how she put it), and in the consecutive drafts she adds meat and skin on top. This hit me deep in the gut. This is what I'm doing with TUBE. Good God. I have thrown away not one but three drafts. "This has got to stop," I thought.
I have talked to writing mentor. “You are a very talented writer," he said. "You have an incredible imagination, and your strength is in successfully inhabiting your characters and making them believable on the page. You got that down. But you have no idea how to plot. You didn't plot your first book, and you're still in the same place, after four years of writing. If you want to write novels that sell, you need to learn how to plot.”
This is an approximate summary of what he told me, and it neatly merged with what I heard Victoria say, and I knew he was right. This is the answer I've been looking for. This is the source of my frustration that I couldn’t name, that almost plunged me into depression. This is why I was so disgusted with TUBE, Draft 3. I read it and I sensed that there was no plot, but I didn’t even understand that that’s what it was. It's like one of those things you hear about and think you know, but you don't. I know the definition of plotting, I have read about it, but I don't really know what it means. I have never deliberately plotted any of my books (I tried and failed with Siren Suicides), so really, I don't know how to plot!
And so, because I couldn't name what was missing from TUBE, I thought it was story. "There is no story here!" I exclaimed. I was wrong. There is a story. There is no novel, however, just a collection of interconnected scenes. I have gone ahead and started writing Tyubik, Draft 4 with this idea that I’ll just write each chapter like a separate little story and then string them together so you can read the book from any chapter, just like you meet random people on the train. I was so excited. I see what I did here. I have cleverly found a way out of hard work. I’ve never done this type of work before and so I scorned it in my mind as something boring and unnecessary. But every novel that I read and love has something that my novels don't have. What is it? I was beating my head against the wall, trying to understand what the hell it was that I'm missing. The answer is simple, of course.