Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Lessons learned, maybe a third of the way through novel number two

So far all I've heard is still proving true: writing your second novel is much easier than the first. And it has everything to do with increased tolerance for uncertainty.

In a lot of ways, this second novel should be harder than the first one. I set out to do Dostoevsky in Cleveland. You know, a family caught up in a murder mystery and yelling at each other and God. But somehow, midway through, I've ended up having to research the Japanese-American internments during WWII, the Manhattan Project, and mid-century treatments for schizophrenia. Which means, of late, my goal of writing 1,000 words a day is right out the window. I've been stuck at around 45,000 words for at least the past month, though I can say I've been working pretty steadily.

In the past, this stark realization of my own ignorance, combined with the labor involved in correcting it, would have meant seriously questioning the whole enterprise, and at least one start-over from the beginning (in an attempt to steer the vessel *around* rather than *through* the Slough of Ignorance). This time I'm a lot more patient and less afraid--because I've learned these problems can be overcome. They are all part of the process. I'm OK with (well, not completely OK with, but tolerant of) writing a thousand words one day and deleting all of them the next, as further research proves them wrong, wrong, wrong.

This is not to say I'm writing a historical novel, or that I intend the novel to be fully historically accurate. The facts are still going to be distorted; I see no way around that. But the historical backdrop has to be plausible. It has to be acceptable, even as its true purpose is to serve the fictional story.

Also: I've learned you do not have to make up characters out of whole cloth. You can seriously base them on real people, either historical figures, or people you know. That takes a lot of the work out of the whole thing. So, watch out, historical figures and people I know! Although actually, as with history, these people will end up distorted. Hopefully beyond recognition.

Anyway, this post is supposed to give all beginning novelists hope. As those who've gone before have said, write the first one. And then write the next one. You'll see.

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