Friday, August 9, 2013

The Great Never-Wrote

Writing Week! Subject to change, this blog now has a different subject each week, in an attempt to get some of my many many ideas out of this head.

It will go thus: Writing Week, Music Week, Food/Fitness Week and Teaching/Parenting Week.

This week, I discuss the Great Never-Wrote.

So who's your Great Never-Had, people?

If you haven't hear the term, the Great Never-Had is your hopeless crush, or a relationship ended before its time, or a relationship that died before it started.

My great Never-Had was an artist, a vegetarian, and a redhead. I tried to date her all through my junior year of high school and failed. When senior year started, she serendipitously reciprocated. A few blissful months later, my Spider-Sense told me she was not that interested in me and was about to break up with me any minute.

Disclaimer: my Spider-Sense sounds exactly like typical adolescent neurosis.

So I dumped her, then went right back to pining after her. She, rightly, surmised that I had broken her heart once and I was a farking mess.

She got over me. I piiiiiiiiined.

We lost contact for a while, then became friends again in college. At this point, she ate meat, gave up painting, joined the Army, and went brunette. I had a lot of fun with her, but I never dated her college incarnation. Yet if her high school incarnation showed up to my 22-year-old self's door and said she'd take me back... damn the age gap, damn the time travel, I would have done it.

You understand, people.

In writing terms, she has a cousin in the Great Never-Wrote. More accurately, the Great Wrote-But-Never-Got-Right. It's that novel or story that you pour your soooooooul into, cram all your ideas into, rewrite and rewrite and give to everyone to critique and then... send it out and no one even wants to look at it. Or you realize that you learned a lot, but the ambition of the project has contributed to its downfall. It's too big and unwieldy. The plot hinges on an event that just does not work. The story is an allegory for your faith, but you became an atheist. The love interest is based on your great Never-Had and you don't want her to recognize herself because now you're Facebook friends (that's a stupid reason not to write something, btw).

My Great Never-Wrote sits, unfinished, in the middle of it's fourth full rewrite. That's not revision. That is Re-Write, from scratch, starting with a blank page.

It started as a novel called Blood Earth, which I wrote in 2004. For this novel, I took the four or so fantasy ideas I had and threw them all together into a blender. The result was cool. Part epic fantasy, part portal fantasy, part doomed messiah, part religious war.

So by 2005 it was ready for submission, and I put together some subs and sent it out and... THUD.

That was a good year for form rejections. I hope you bought stock in stationary in 2005.

In 2007, I noodled around with a new version of the book. Although it had seemed perfect when I submitted it in 2005, by 2007 I knew where the problems were in the structure. I decided to try rewriting it. What could it hurt?

The original version had been set in a nondescript fantasy world. I made the whole thing more like the Crusades, my favorite historical clusterf***, and my elevator pitch became "it's the Crusades, if the Muslims were telepaths and the Christians were shape-shifters."

Version 2.0 was a mess, but a good one. I changed a lot, let it breathe, added characters, tried four titles and finally closed it out at 220,000 words. That's over one thousand manuscript pages. I whittled it down to 180,000 and gave it to my writing group to read. We were all in agreement that it was...

...still a mess.

I decided cut away some of the characters to simplify things. Instead of six viewpoint characters, we went down to four. I got kind of far in that version, but couldn't deal with the issues I had now created for the ending, because so many crucial characters had been cut.

I was tired. It was now 2010. The title of the work was now "The Betrayer's Song." I referred to it as The BS.

In late 2010, I attended Viable Paradise, a one-week science fiction writing workshop on Martha's Vineyard. At VP, I had a VISION.

I knew how to fix the Great Never-Wrote. I got home and finished NaNoWriMo 2010 in two weeks. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and burned out at 82,000 words, with about 60,000 words left to go. Stuck, I gave that version to a friend who said "Your first chapter really needs to be a novel of its own. This is great but it's Book Two." And, while this is dangerous advice to heed, I thought he was right. The advice clicked. So throughout 2011 and 2012 I wrote 110,000 words on the first-chapter-into-a-whole-novel version... and burned out with only 20 or 30 thousand words to go.

In the words of Tolkien, "Foresight had failed and there was no time for thought." Less profound: I have such a huge pile of The BS, and nothing to do with it.

This year, I started working on an entirely different project, although I'm recycling some of the stuff I threw away in early drafts of The BS.

I think about it often. Specifically, I think about the fun I had writing it way back in 2004 when I didn't know what I was doing. Or the joy of that late-night idea session at VP. My critique group's feedback on the second version. And the most recent version, for which I have notes and fix attempts from just a few months ago.

Occasionally I pine. But I don't pine for what I have now. What I have now is a huge mess. I pine for all the times I thought it was working, and I knew exactly what to do with it.

(However, I did cull a number of flashback sequences and publish them as the story "The Death of Roach." In case you want to know what the world looks like.)

How about you? What's your Great Never-Wrote?

(Although this is so 2006, I still believe in the virtues of a good comment left on the blog page, in the blog's format. So leave one if you have an answer. I



  1. Spencer, Blood Earth rocks. I don't know what has to happen to get it to publication, but I loved it. I read it in two days and loved it. I couldn't tell you at the time anything of what could have made it more marketable because you were far and away better educated than me in the craft of writing. I know the call of publishing, the want of it. But take heart in the fact that Blood Earth exists for you and me and others who have read it. And agents and editors who pass on it don't change that.
    And you rock!

  2. Note: my "prove you're not a robot" word for the previous comment was like two letters off from "licentious."
    What kind of blog you running anyway?

  3. A licensed one. :)

    Thanks for the kind words. Yes, everyone liked Blood Earth and if I had known more about the business I might have been able to sell it harder.