21st Century Brontë #28 by Brontë Bettencourt
The Shelf, and Finishing the Draft
I finally started writing the first book to a series that I’ve been imagining for years, and it’s awful.
By awful, I mean the writing process. I feel like I’m slamming my head against the paper until my blood somehow congeals into the right words.
I’m midway through chapter two. My narrator, Ellie, encounters several characters who will later accompany her on her journey. I know what needs to be foreshadowed, as well as where and how Ellie’s character is established. I know her internal guilt, and apprehension as she goes about her daily routine.
I’ve known all of this for years. All I have to do is finish the draft.
I’ve become obsessed with completing this story. I bought a small notebook so I can write whenever I have a free moment. I jot down sentences during slow periods at work, during breaks, and on outings with friends. If I keep at it every day, I’ll eventually have the book finished, even if it’s only a few sentences at a time. Then, once edited and published, I might be able to support myself via my own writing.
The first few chapters outlined on my wall.
The majority of my writing sessions are fueled by determination to get the draft down. Over the course of several years I’ve created outlines detailing the chapters so I can compartmentalize the story, instead of feeling overwhelmed by an entire novel. I’ve changed the events to accommodate my own growing interests, and free wrote to keep myself intrigued by my permutations of the unfolding tale.
I knew that inspiration would not be enough to complete of the story. But I’ve begun to wonder if there ever was a drive to complete this book to begin with.
The reason why I created this story in the first place was to keep Ellie and her immediate circle alive. I poured years into developing their personalities and back-stories. I didn’t want all of that development to go to waste, and I was certain that if I created a story intriguing enough, others would also fall in love with these characters.
I became so consumed with creating another world, with its intricacies that I forgot what entertained me in the first place: characters. Why the hell did I create a story in which Ellie becomes separated from her brothers early on, when the charm rests in their relationships? Why am I spending so much time world building, when I really enjoy deepening the characters?
Because of this book, I’ve become stagnant. For me it’s comfortable to not pursue other projects until this series has been completed.
And years have passed.
So often I was taught to keep working on a piece until it’s been seen through to completion. If a story isn’t working, put it in a drawer and don’t touch it until a later time. I understand now why artists juggle so many projects; no one can afford to sit on a single idea until it chooses to come to fruition.
Sometimes a project needs to be reworked from the foundation up.
I’m considering building the story up from scratch, but I think shelving everything – including the characters – might be the best action. Even in my busiest times my mind wandered back to how Ellie would react to a monumental final, or what her opinion is on a new film. I would still feel guilty if I completely gave up on these characters.
For the last two months, I was consumed with graduate school applications. I spent the majority of that time on the twenty-page writing sample. With just over a week until the deadline I had about eighteen pages’ worth of freewrites, strung together by the reoccurring characters. I had magic, a love interest, and dream sequences, all wrapped up in a character who worked too much and created too little.
My editor told me that my writing sample would’ve ended up in the “No” pile.
I made the awful mistake of beginning my story with a dream sequence. But more importantly, my lack of confidence in the piece was glaringly obvious in over-description and underdevelopment of ideas. I was so concerned with the page count and impressing the universities that I forgot how to just tell the story.
I rewrote the entire story in two days, easily exceeding the page count that took me a month and a half.
My editor forced me to state that I would not worry about the page count, and I think that’s what helped me the most. With the deadline rapidly approaching, I didn’t have time to second-guess my writing, freeing me to make decisions.
I’ve made the decision to scrap my novel idea. I’m now working on a new idea involving Ellie and the crew, and because the idea is fairly new, the concept doesn’t feel overwhelming. The story feels like an alternate reality fan-fiction to the original idea, which allows me the same freedom I experienced with my writing sample. I can also focus more on the characters’ relationships and personalities.
Maybe it will flourish. I can also assure you that it does not begin with a dream sequence.
Brontë Bettencourt (Episode 34, Episode 221) graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelors in English Creative Writing. When she’s not writing or working, she is a full time Dungeon Master and Youtube connoisseur.