Crossing the finish line

The hardest part about writing a novel is in crossing the finish line. Once the first draft is done, the finish line is in sight, but the final stretch is where the hardest work lies. I blogged that I’d finish my young adult novel, THE MAGIC QUILT, by the end of 2007. I’m not finished. I’ve lost count of the number of revisions I’ve made to the novel, but in reading through some of my older posts, I am reminded of the reasons for those revisions. In each pass through, I’ve improved specific things.

As I previously posted, I had to create a fantasy world that would be logical and real to a twelve year old. This was probably the most difficult and time consuming and yet the most fun. Time travel, morphing into animals, appearing and disappearing and being invisible had to become routine parts of day-to-day life for Katharine.

Beyond the magical elements, the history also had to be accurate. Everything in the room I write in—the electric lights and the computer, the bottled water I drink, and the climate controlled air conditioning —was as imaginary in 1775, as fantastic, as Narnia or Hogwarts are today. So I had to revise with attention to detail that I hope will make Boston of 1775 real to young adults.

I’ve also fixed the POV problems I had with Katharine and her fellow wizards shape shifting into animals.

In the first chapter where the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart is introduced, my writing critique group found several areas that needed to be reworked for logic and consistency. I was tempted simply to hit the delete key because I didn’t want to put forth the effort and energy needed for the corrections. See Motivating the cognitive miser. But after some elbow grease, I think the chapter is now both stronger and more believable. I often find that the hardest scenes to write are usually the ones that I am most happy with.

Now, I’ve made another change, also as a result of feedback from my writing group–whose input has been invaluable in making the novel better. I reorganized the order of the chapters in THE MAGIC QUILT so that Katharine travels back to the past sooner, which means I’ll have to write some transition scenes and delete others. I don’t want to do it. I keep reconsidering the ordering. But I think the new order is important to remove any parallels with Harry Potter: Katharine is a wizard who is just learning to use her powers and there is an evil wizard trying to kill her. But that is where the similarity stops. I want to make it clear to readers that my novel is an historical fantasy, unlike J. K. Rowling’s novels. So, it is important to bring out the unique aspect of the book earlier, thus the trip to the past must happen sooner. I think it will be more interesting for young people this way and I am reminded that elbow grease usually leads to writing that makes me proud.

Still, I can’t seem to get momentum flowing into finishing THE MAGIC QUIL. I know what the problem is. As I previously posted, my strength seems to be writing for and about children. But I’m discovering I don’t like writing for young people as much as I enjoy writing fiction for adults. I love reading psychological and medical thrillers for adults, which is what I want to write.

Why? In writing from the point of view of a twelve year old, I can’t use the vocabulary I could for adults. The dialogue and plot are much simpler. In other words, it’s harder to write exciting stories for children. It is much more limiting. Yet, I think the story in THE MAGIC QUILT needs to be told. It is a coming of age story full of history and magic, but Katharine’s real accomplishment is not in defeating the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart, or playing a role in the battle for freedom. Her growth in character comes in finding the strength to take the first steps in ending the neglect and abuse from living in with an alcoholic mother. I wanted to write this story because there is little literature for children and young adults living with neglect and abuse.

It really shouldn’t matter what I want to write. I should just suck it up and finish THE MAGIC QUILT. It is nearly done–and I think it’s pretty good. Yet I can’t focus on finishing. I sit down at the computer and do anything else, including laundry, organizing my e-mail contacts and cleaning my office.

As a result, I spent several months working on short stories and I pretty proud of a couple of them. I have also been reading stories on Critters Workshop and have learned a lot from other Critter’s critiques of my work and others. One thing that I have learned is that there are numerous awesome writers out there who are dedicated to their art. Many resubmit two and three drafts of a story to the workshop. Their patience in perfecting their work is seemingly endless. The secret to success seems to be dedication as well as talent.

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One Response to “Crossing the finish line”

  1. […] March 28, 2008: The hardest part about writing a novel is in crossing the finish line. Once the first draft is done, the finish line is in sight, but the final stretch is where the hardest work lies. I’ve lost count of the number of revisions I’ve made to the novel, but in reading through some of my older posts, I am reminded of the reasons for those revisions. In each pass through, I’ve improved specific things. […]

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