2105 was a productive writing year for me, more so than any year prior. I completed my 8th draft of Memento Mori, and put it through several revisions, edits, and rounds of beta readers. Then I began the querying process. I attended my weekly writers’ meetings with very few misses, and I tackled NaNoWriMo again, and won with 52,000+ words.
In December, however, my writing trajectory took an odd turn.
That’s when my writers’ group has a yearly potluck, with long brainstorming sessions, word sprints, critiques, and maybe a game of Settlers of Catan, just to break things up. It was at this yearly Feast of Words (we should call it that, honestly) that I received an unexpected visitor. That’s when an old manuscript I had written off as dead four years earlier staggered, zombie-like, back into my life.
Everyone needs a writing notebook when they’re renovating an old idea.
Shortly after Christmas, we met for our annual write-in, resulting in five hours of feasting and writing and general hilarity. There was a lot of catching up to do, too. But in the end we gravitated back, as we always do, to the core question that first brought us together: “Where are you with your writing?” Plot holes, worldbuilding, revisions, edits, first chapters that have been written six or twelve or twenty times – all were up for discussion.
Soon it was my turn. I usually have an answer for these things. I’m a teacher, and one of the founding members of this group, to boot. So I’m expected to have a ready answer to the “current project” question. But once I opened my mouth to answer, I realized I didn’t have one. The next few exchanges went something like this:
Me: Um….the sequel to Memento Mori, I think? Maybe a short story or two. Got a couple dead manuscripts that—
Writer Posse: What manuscripts? What do you mean, ‘dead’?
Me: Dead, dead. Like “Castle 8” dead, that’s not going anywh—
Writer Posse: [collective deafening SQUEEEE.] Castle 8? You still have that?
Me: [thinking] Oh crap. That’s right. They read the first draft. The incoherent, butt-ugly, go-drown-this-in-a-swamp first draft. Yikes.
Writer Posse: Tell us you’re resurrecting the Swackhammer brothers, PLEASE. Work on that, please. Pretty please? With free wifi and espresso beans on top?
Then – and this was the truly humbling thing – they began to list the reasons they loved the story – babbling, butt-ugly, swampish mess that it was. The premise. The characters. The general flow of events. I even interrupted them at one point and said, essentially: “But that part is a mistake! I got it all wrong!” To which they replied, “No…we don’t think you did.”
Understand: I haven’t touched this manuscript in over four years. It lodged at the bottom of my documents list and stayed there, because I just didn’t have the heart to trash the whole thing. But after about fifteen minutes of listening to my friends applaud something I thought was trash, I went digging through my archives, and exhumed it.
And wow. What a mess it is. But it’s a mess with promise.
It’s been nine weeks since my friends gave me a much needed shot in the arm, and I’m still not sure how to process everything going on in my head regarding this manuscript. I’ve deleted unnecessary characters. Tightened the timeline. Dropped 52,000 of the 80,000 words, then decided I needed to start over from scratch. I’ve questioned the geography, relationships, motivations, and backstories of every character from my villain to the grocer who sells her apples.
And I’m still scared to write.
I’m scared that I’ll let my friends down. That I’ll let the Swackhammers down – these imaginary brothers that exist only in my head. That maybe the story won’t be good enough.
But it wasn’t “good enough” the first time. And yet it was “good enough” to make an impression on my first audience. Something about this story begs to be told, even if it’s not exactly in the original format I thought it would be, four years ago.
Well. I rewrote Memento Mori eight times before I got it right. Guess I’ll give Castle 8 another go.
*digs a trench and hunkers down for the long haul*