Why My First Novel Needed To Be Put In Timeout

I wrote my first novel during the sometimes loved, sometimes hated, much discussed NaNoWriMo. Since I decided to participate only days before the start, I had very little planned out in advance. I simply knew the program had been recommended by a college professor, and I had some time to kill. Since I love to write, it seemed like a natural fit to fill the time.

As I attempted to edit it, I realized I didn’t approach writing it in the best way, choosing to fly by the seat of my pants with no outline, nothing more than a general idea. It is a romance, chick-lit, comedy, drama, chock-full of fights, break-ups, makeups, and near-misses on torrid adultery. Because of this, and the fact that I didn’t think I could make it fit into a single story without taking too much away from the original idea, I made the decision to  shelve it in favor of one of the other ideas I have in my ever-expanding notebook.  This time I will take the time to write it with more thought than what I put into my first.

With this plan in mind, I outlined the first several chapters of a second novel, with an overall synopsis and a few character profiles. Still, something kept pulling me back to that first story. I felt like I wasn’t giving it enough of a chance, that I abandoned it too early.

Then it hit me… I had the wrong main character. While the main storyline was jumbled and messy, with characters that were even starting to annoy me, I had a great romance story hiding in the background. The original main character’s best friend had sworn off ever having a serious relationship in middle school after having her heart broken. In the background of the main story line, she meets and falls in love with the man of her dreams, while struggling to give in to her feelings.

Since she is the best friend and roommate of the main character, I have about twenty-five thousand words of this story line, amid a whole lot of junk on the other one. So, rather than throw away the entire story, I realized that I can switch to a new main character, salvaging what I can of the original story and re-writing the rest.

When I started NaNoWriMo, their site said:

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down. (from nanowrimo.org)

I agree; I certainly have a lot of crap. With this change in direction, about two-thirds of the novel will be in the trash. But it also said:

Once you start evaluating your story in terms of word count, you take that pressure off yourself. And you’ll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and a ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never expected, taking the story places you’d never imagined. There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it. (from nanowrimo.org)

It appears they are right, because I found beauty in my NaNo Novel. It just wasn’t where I expected it. I may have set out to write an edgy, funny chick-lit novel, but I am coming out with a stronger sappy romance novel that will hopefully keep a lot of that original humor.

Now I can put my new and improved NaNo novel in time out in without reservation, knowing that when I am ready to come back to it, the storyline is ready.  I may not be ready to edit it at this point–I am still too close to the original story, and seem to slip right back into it too easily–but I have a plan once I am ready.  It is my hope that, like an unruly child, when my little novel comes out of timeout at some indeterminate point in the future, it will be with somewhat more discipline and maturity (on my part, of course).

Have you ever to put a work in progress in timeout?  Did you return to it? How did you know when you were ready to pull it back off the shelf?

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About Susi Borath

Susi Borath finds time to write between freelance marketing jobs, minor league baseball games, creating new cookie recipes, and juggling more laundry than any two people should be able to produce. You can find more about her at http://susiborath.com or follow @susiborath on Twitter.
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3 Responses to Why My First Novel Needed To Be Put In Timeout

  1. kayepeters says:

    I have come to the same decision in regards to my NaNo novel. I put it in time-out faster than the time I sent my oldest into time-out for drawing on the baby’s face with marker. (Apparently she needed freckles.)

    Best of luck with the new novel – aren’t they exciting? So fresh, so new, so not full of horribly written sentences….yet. Ah, the beauty and the possibilities of a blank screen.

  2. Pingback: The Amazing Power of Timeout | Have Coffee… Will Write

  3. Pingback: » The Amazing Power of Timeout Susan Borath

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