Last year I did a reverse Nanowrimo and cut 30k words out of a manuscript. It was a bit of a grueling process, but actually felt really, really good and resulted in a version of Tin Road that I was confident enough to submit to a local library collection. And it was accepted! It's now available in paperback form for purchase.
I haven't officially announced it yet (I'm going to do a promotional/fundraising push to raise some book and food funds for my Little Free Library closer to Thanksgiving) but for anyone who actually reads my blog and wants a copy, you can purchase now on Amazon. If you show me the receipts, I'll even send you a signed bookplate! I know, Amazon is the devil. But it's allowed me to fulfill one of my meager life goals, which is getting my books in print.
This year, for Nanowrimo 2020, I am torn. I finished the draft of the third novel: Iron Curtain. I got feedback from beta readers. I am in the process of applying some changes and angling to submit to the 2021 Multnomah County Library Writers Project. If that doesn't happen, I still plan to publish it in Spring 2021.
So, I could spend all of November 2020 cleaning up this manuscript.
Or, I could write something new. I have a story that's been burbling in my brain for a while now and it really, really, really wants to get out. I even went so far as to make it a playlist, so you know that's when things are getting really serious. If this brain book and I were dating, making a playlist is the mental equivalent of going Facebook official. I don't really know if that metaphor worked...
Anywho. If I decide to tackle Iron Curtain, the main things I'm looking at are cleaning up the last 12 chapters (out of 32) and overall beefing up the language. Basically, a back-section DE and a line edit. That seems doable in a month. Then I could pass it off to my beta readers for one last review before it goes the MCLWP in early 2021.
BUT if I decide to tackle the new project, that is starting over entirely from scratch. I have a rough outline, a rough character sketch, I know what she wants (and what she REALLY wants, and what she needs). I don't have all the specifics mapped out, but I have a general idea of where it's going. I have to admit, the idea has appeal and some merit. I've been embroiled in the Metal Heart world for months now, and taking even a week long pause to ACTUALLY read a book (bless you Undead Girl Gang for being the one) really helped me approach the manuscript with new eyes. Why, just yesterday I unearthed a fun little plot swivel that will make the ending much more interesting and dynamic.
I'm quite prepared to enact either plan. OR BOTH. I think both will probably be disastrous, but hear me out. No, really.
What if I took half the month to vomit out 25k words of a story that's been taking up a lot of my brain space lately?
And then what if I took the other half of the month to finish cleaning up Iron Curtain so it can FINALLY see print and the fates of my favorite idiots will FINALLY be secured properly?
These are the very questions that have kept me up the last few nights.
And I'm still not clear in what order those things would best fall together. Part of me says: Iron Curtain first. Then take a breather. LET IT BREATHE. Work on this new book and get it out your system. And then come back to Iron Curtain with EVEN FRESHER eyes.
I know. It's too much. Yagirl is always in danger of doing TOO MUCH.
The pragmatic, realist side of me says: You'd better just get this damn book FINISHED. Like, all the way finished. No more distractions. No other WIPs and fun side stories. Iron Curtain is the end of a writing era and it deserves my full attention until it is the best possible version it can be.
I think you can tell which side I am landing on. But when it comes down to November 1... I still have no idea what I'll ACTUALLY do. Here goes something...
Confession time: I haven't read a single book in my To Be Read pile since the pandemic started.
I know. Bear with me. At first, there was a totally reasonable excuse. I was in the midst of my final term of graduate school and there was no time. When the pandemic first kicked off, it was consuming my whole attention as we are a multi-generational household and we had to figure out our "new normal" in order to keep everyone safe. Everything went online. Shopping became a scary undertaking. Exercise regiments were established. Sanitizing protocols were put in place. It was A LOT.
But then the MA program ended and I was jobless and home bound like many other unfortunate Americans.
Sure, I started freelance editing. I was job searching. I was formatting my books for print. My hometown of Portland, Oregon was thrust into the spotlight due to our nightly protests. We were occupied by federal agents. A Proud Boy was shot and killed downtown. My entire state of Oregon was on fire. We acquired a new pet. My daughter started online kindergarten. The election drama has been INTENSE this year and fractured my personal relationships. I started a new job. The holidays are coming up. Financial stress is real. The list goes on...
For a lot of the country, things leveled out or went back to normal or never changed much to begin with. For my particular nook in the Pacific Northwest, we've been bombarded with hit after hit and strangely enough, for me, pleasure reading has been the most impacted by this near continuous "state of emergency." Constant vigilance is EXHAUSTING.
There were and still are a lot of things, BUT I also have A LOT of books. And in the past few months since our lovely Little Free Library opened, the pile has only grown bigger.
I have resorted to purchasing books in multiple for the library, especially the ones that appeal to me, because I haven't been able to fulfill my mental promise of "reading this book quickly and then adding it to the library." Nope. The books intended to hit the library shelves AFTER I read them are now are stacking up and collecting dust alongside all the book presents and impulse splurges from the last year.
I literally haven't even been able to finish a pleasure read I started over winter break back in 2019. My track record for books read in 2020 (that weren't school, work, or craft related) is a big fat zero. I'm not sure what the deal is. I seem to have some kind of mental block when it comes to reading books that has persisted throughout the entire pandemic and resulted in stacks of unread books, even ones that desperately appeal to me, just moldering on my nightstand and dresser and end table and book case.
It doesn't help that I've been working so diligently to FINALLY wrap up the Metal Heart series and get all of those books available in paperback and ebook formats (*fingers crossed* for audio format one day). Whenever I want to selfishly pop open a book for pleasure reading, some weird voice in the back of my head takes over and says: Not today! Finish YOUR book instead.
It made sense at the beginning of the pandemic that all my excess resources were consumed with "solving this problem." There wasn't extra brain space to dive into an alternate reality. I concede that point. Many others have commented on just this phenomena. There's even science to back me up.
But we're eight months in now. There are constant adjustments and shifts, but nothing quite like the massive upheaval in Spring 2020. And I've also been letting myself slip into other realms. My free time is filled with Netflix and Pokemon Go and stupid puzzle/narrative games on my phone. Those alternate realities are OK, apparently.
I'm feeling itchy and antsy and mentally stalled and incredibly GUILTY. I've started multiple books, thinking: This is it! This is the one! This is going to break the cycle! And then read about a chapter in and can't seem to focus any further than that. Books that I was stoked to read. Books that I NEED to read for craft purposes or just to be a better human in general.
It's becoming problematic that someone with an MA in BOOK PUBLISHING, who WRITES BOOKS, and regularly stocks a COMMUNITY LIBRARY full of books is struggling to read them. I can't even blame doomscrolling as I've worked over the last month or so to purge that habit.
I'm buoyed up by my continual interest in the idea of reading. I believe that there will be a time in the future, possibly even the near future, where I can redistribute my headspace and pleasure read a book again. In fact, the one that's been sitting on my end table and calling my name for the last few days is Undead Girl Gang.
What's holding me back from tearing into it right now? That depressive dip, that weird sense of loss that hits when I get about a chapter in and realize that I can't go any further. I am now afraid to start a book because I fear that I won't be able to finish it. Anxiety sometimes be like that.
I will mark it a victory if, in the next few weeks, I can crack open this fun YA novel, read it, and churn out a review. No pressure on this book, but some pressure. I need a win here.
Until then, happy reading, my friends -- if you are able. If you're not able to read, you're not alone, and we're in this together. We'll get back there one day. Your TBR pile is not a negative statement about you as a person. It's more of a condemnation of the times. It's been a rough year and however you've chosen to survive it, and whatever thing you had to let go of to be here today... it's OK.
The books aren't going anywhere.
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.