…and that’s really quite all right.
Some background: During my thesis meeting, one of my committee members asked me what I would say if she told me that everything I had was great, but that the real story for the novel started three months (to toss out a random number) past the events that I was writing about. I looked at her and said, “Honestly, Natalie, I think I’d cry.”
But that’s been in the back of my mind ever since, because what was clear was that something wasn’t quite clicking with my story, and hadn’t been for months leading up to my defense. Oh, I was doing work that needed to be done—and this was really the first time I was seriously working with the novel form—but I kept running into problems around page 40, right around the time the book should have been taking off. At first I thought I just needed to rewrite those particular pages (and what came after), but in the eight months since my defense I’ve been considering another possibility: that things have been falling flat because I picked the wrong starting point.
I always struggle with the beginning. Always have. Short stories, essays, research papers, even emails. When writing papers for school I used to start with the third or fourth sentence, write the whole paper through, then come back and fill in the beginning. If I can hit on a start I’m happy with, I’m usually off to the races. The trouble, I suppose, comes when I find the wrong start. And the more I thought about my book (and the nods of my other two committee members as they allowed that this might be work needing to be done), the less I found I wanted to work on it. And so it sat, for eight months, without me so much as reading it.
But I finally pulled it back out almost two weeks ago. I’m reaching a point, I think, where I realize it’s time I make a choice: either get serious about my writing or stop pretending. And I don’t like the thought that I’m pretending, so I’m getting serious, and working hard. So I set myself the task of doing a reread, marking things I like, things I think I can do better, and things I think will have to be changed with the major rewrite I’ve finally admitted needs to happen. My hope was that looking at the work with fresh eyes would help trigger something, some sort of answer to the question of where this book needs to start, which will help me finally see where it can go.
And finally, with less than ten pages to go through I finally had my answer. It’s simple answer, but it changes a lot, and it feels so right. I’m left wondering how it took me more than 15 months with this book to get to this point, a point where I finally feel like I’ll be able to sustain a story through an entire book rather than having it get away from me mere chapters in. I can tell you, it’s pure elation. And it was worth the work, and the wait. Tomorrow I start committing to paper the new beginning.by