This one has been an experience. I think I will have learned things, once I’m done processing. As part of the processing, here are some thoughts:
The book started in a very typical way for me:, “Oh, I know what would be cool!” One thing that wasn’t typical is the degree of pre-writing feedback on it; I kicked around ideas with Skyler White and Jen Melchert. This was unexpectedly useful. For a leave-me-alone-till-it’s-done type, it is interesting to consider how many really cool ideas came out of those conversations. Not sure if I’ll do that again, but I at least won’t reject the idea out of hand.
The writing itself was somewhat slow, but not terribly. I did my usual thing: it will write itself as fast as it wants to, and my only choice is how miserable to make myself in the meantime.
And then, somewhere around the halfway point, something entirely new and unexpected happened: a got nailed with an idea of what I wanted to write next. Not just nailed, but the over-the-top, “Got to write this need to write this arrrrgh” feeling I know and love. But this has never happened before while I was in the middle of a different book.
In retrospect, I might have been better off just dropping Vallista until the other one was done, but I didn’t. I finished it anyway, and as a result it was a mess. The first draft of that book is probably worse than any other I’ve completed, including Brokedown Palace, and Athyra.
While waiting to meet with my critique group (Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Will Shetterly, Adam Stemple), I went and wrote the other one (working title Magister Valley) which was every bit as joyful an experience as I’d thought it would be.
Then I met with the group (I’d already previously met with Skyler, who was the first to point out the problems in the first draft), and set in to fix the thing.
The revisions were predictably slow and painful and Not Fun. The thing is, the critique group and Skyler did just what they were supposed to: highlighted the problems in a clear enough way that I knew what I had to do in general, and pointed to solutions–in general. And that was where the challenge came in. Because it is one thing to get a comment like, “I’m not clear on the motivations for this character,” or, “you have a lot of this kind of thing that you don’t need and it just slows everything down.” Those are not only useful, but easy to attack. However, when broader, more structural problems come to light, I know I need to fix them, but translating that problem to the exact words that need to be deleted and added is not easy for me. In the end, one of the biggest problems, maybe the biggest, translated to: It isn’t cool enough. Yikes. So, yeah, I made it cooler.
One of things really good critics will do is that they will often point out unrelated problems that you eventually discover will solve each other. I don’t want to go into too much detail because of spoilers, but for example, “I was disappointed that you didn’t go into this kind of scene,” and, “this part of the book felt slow,” lend themselves to, “Okay, I can put that kind of scene in this part of the book.” I did a lot of that sort of thing. Whole new scenes were added with the idea drumming in my head: It needs to be cooler.
The interesting thing is how happy I am with it right now. Before, it wasn’t a bad book, it was a meh book. I hate that worse. I have to caution you that it’s pretty clear that what I think of a book has pretty much no relationship to what others will think of it, or even, necessarily, what I will think of it in five years. But the difference between how I felt about it before and how I feel about it now is huge.
It will be interesting to see if this experience changes how I approach things in the next book. One of the coolest parts of this business is that one never stops learning.