Reinventing the wheel

You would think that after, God, is it sixteen novels? the seventeenth would go pretty much like the others. First draft in three or four months, a sort of expanded outline (since I am constitutionally incapable of doing an outline beforehand) that tells me what the book is supposed to look like; giving it to my editor to have her tell me that yes, the places I think it lacking are indeed the places it is lacking; four or five months rewriting what I put down in order to have it actually look like what I envision it to be; another editorial round (I am blessed with a Real Editor); a last revision; off it goes to line edit and copy-edit; the really last revision on that poor cross-marked and Post-It’e2’80’99ed thing; off to type-setter; a final really absolutely last niggling set of changes (until the bound galleys come out and then my peppering Longsuffering Editor with uncaught typos and unnoticed chronological anomalies so that I begin to feel like that character in Sayers’ GAUDY NIGHT, whose book must be ripped from her hands and given to the typesetters; after al of which I’e2’80’99m so sick unto death of the book I never want to think of it again, so I go on tour and get to talk about it nonstop for a month.

That, in theory, is how it goes. So why with this book, to be the fifth in the Martinelli series, am I going back to the way I wrote THE BEEKEEPER’e2’80’99S APPRENTICE eighteen (heavens!) years ago?

That, too, had an impossibly short first draft to which I went back and added an entire chunk, transforming it into a novel not just in length, but stylistically. (I’e2’80’99m not going to tell which it is; let’e2’80’99s see if you can guess which section I’e2’80’99m talking about’e2’80’94and no fair posting it as a comment if you’e2’80’99ve already heard me tell this before.) And this Martinelli V (nameless, yet again, sigh) is an impossibly short first draft of barely 300 pages, to which I am going to be adding a large chunk. As it stands, it is two novellas wrapping around each other, so what I have to decide is, do I make it three novellas and count on the third to tie everything together, or do I work enriching threads through the larger of the two, as I had intended to in the first place but got bored or ran out of threads or something?

None of this makes a lot of sense to someone who hasn’e2’80’99t seen the manuscript, I know, but I just thought that any of you struggling with a first novel would like to know that even someone who had been through the process sixteen times before just keeps sitting there and reinventing her wheel.

Although why the hell I should imagine anyone wants to know that it doesn’t get any easier, I can’t think. Maybe this is just one of those ways writers try to discourage possible competitors in the field, and the truth is, anyone who has published a few novels discovers the secret method that flings a book out in polished form in three months.

Yes, that must be it.

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  1. sinda on May 16, 2005 at 2:15 pm

    The case of the missing ham?

    I have faith – can’t wait to read it!

  2. Anonymous on May 16, 2005 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks for the encouragement. And here I hoped that it got easier with experience. I’m only working on a short story and I just got my 1st draft back from my editor. I was actually relieved (not a terrible ammount of work to do), but still, there’s a heck of a lot of blood, sweat and tears in those lousy 25 pages! I can’t imagine what a novel must be like! We all know that you can do it though. Good luck! Christy

  3. Cornelia on May 16, 2005 at 5:31 pm

    When I started my first reading expedition into “Beekeeper” I remember having the odd impression of reading a collection of shorter crime stories all the time, like sitting down with one of the familiar old collections of Conan Doyle’s stories and not with a novel at first. The book felt rather episodical, loosely composed and a little desultory. Lots of small cases spread along the way – but where the big storyline? I accepted it as a challenge, or a game the book played with me – or I could play with the book. For there HAD to be a connecting plot, a unifying thread, something more complex behind all the “incoherent” episodes, otherwise the whole framing story would have been deceptive, the strong voice of Mary Russell wasted – and so would have been the insinuations of the subtitle and the chapter headings. No way! And voil’c3’a0, there was a connection and meaning behind it all indeed, tying the loose ends together … I would guess (and now I risk embarassing myself completely!) that you added most of the episodic material (missing ham, light signals, gipsy story) quite late in your writing process and fitted it into the Russell-Holmes-Moriarty-storyline. And now you may smile at me …

  4. Terminaldegree on May 16, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    Is it the kidnapping in Wales?

  5. Rebecca on May 16, 2005 at 8:00 pm

    I would agree with others and guess that the episode of the senator’s daughter might be the added-in bit.

    It’s interesting to know that I’m not the only one whose drafts always end up much shorter than she thinks they’ll be. Not that I’m a real author (hahahaha!) but I’d like to be, someday.

  6. wolfa on May 17, 2005 at 3:08 am

    I must need to reread the book, because I can’t remember it well enough to begin to guess.

    Will you share the answer for posterity (or bloggers, anyhow) eventually?

  7. BoredNow on May 17, 2005 at 11:12 am

    Laurie, this is shameful I know, but I’m just so overjoyed that the new Martinelli is in production that I find myself unable to sympathise!

    I do, however, know that you will come up with something wonderful as usual and I’m sure this sticking point will prove to be critical to making it such a good read.

  8. Chris on May 17, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    It was the Martinelli novels that first reeled me in – and now, of course, I’m hooked on the Russell novels as much! Greatly looking forward to Locked Rooms next month (great cover design here in the UK, why no publisher’s publicity?!)So, with maybe a year to wait for Martinelli V (go on, give us a clue or two!), you have my sympathy, but with a glint in my eye!

  9. Anonymous on May 17, 2005 at 4:27 pm

    It has to be the Wales episode. Do tell!
    -Mary D.

  10. beadtific on May 17, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    Ooooo! This must mean it’s time for my yearly sitting-out-in-the-garden and re-reading old friends again.

    As for not finding titles – I never know what my stories are going to be called until a line flows out and there’s sort of a clicking feeling.

    ::wilts in relief:: It’s wonderful to know that someone else – especially someone I admire – can’t do the outline thing in advance either. I am a lowly beginner and this encourages me mightily.

    I happen to like several story threads that wrap together and suddenly make a larger, unified story.

    Hopefully the “Oh God, Oh God, can it please be OVER?” feeling will pass soon. I usually go rip up weeds or fold laundry until it passes. At times my house and yard are very tidy.

  11. WDI on May 18, 2005 at 12:36 am

    I certainly wish you every encouragement and best of luck for successful resolutions on all fronts!

    I was really intrigued by your comments about reinventing wheels. I don’t write stories or books; I do write college courses consisting of lots of lectures. Like you, I’ve done this many times; also like you, I have a process that generally works well for me. Every once in a while, though, I find myself tied up in knots because I’ve tried to force that process to produce content for which it simply wasn’t suited. Sometimes it’s because the course structure is unusual; sometimes it’s just because I’m working with less familiar material than usual. In any event, the result is the same: I have to figure out a new way to do the same thing I’ve been doing for lo, these many years.

    What generally helps me is the lesson of the overflowing teacup –I need to stop and empty my cup of the preconceived ideas of how the process should work and let the content teach me the process best suited to it. When I do that, I may wind up with a totally new process. Or I wind up with a process I’ve used before, but had forgotten. So it’s really not reinventing the wheel so much as remembering old lessons.

    Anyway, that always sounds much nicer to me 🙂 Best of luck!

  12. Michelle Spencer on May 19, 2005 at 5:52 am

    I’m confident it will be worth the work – all your other novels are.

    Thank you for being so open about working in your blog. I’m at work on a crime novel and your words have encouraged me.

    I’m still writing half my scenes in first person, and half in third person. Can’t decide which but figure it doesn’t matter yet.

    Regards, Michelle

  13. Val McDermid on May 19, 2005 at 4:46 pm

    The first author I heard talking about it getting harder the more one wrote was Ruth Rendell. I figured she must know what she was talking about and my heart sank.
    Now, twenty books in, I know exactly what she means. I think it’s something to do with the striving to make each book better, or at least different from the ones before. As with any skill, getting the basics down is not too hard. But each step beyond basic competence is harder and harder to achieve and the increments do not come easily. There is always more to learn; I just spent the weekend at the Saint & Sinners conference in New Orleans, and I picked up tips from both John Morgan Wilson and Ellen Hart which I know will be helpful to me in the future. Thank heavens that there is such an accessible community of writers these days — not only are we not alone any more, we can steal tips and hints from our colleagues much more easily.

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