On a few occasions, I have met one of Canada's leading crime writing authors, William Deverell, an author whom I first noticed when I was drawn in by the title of one his novels, Kill All the Lawyers. It seemed a bit harsh but having worked with a few of them I could certainly appreciate the sentiment. To be sure, the title was a borrowed line from Shakespeare's Henry VI but my likelihood of meeting the more contemporary William seemed greater, at least in the short term.
At the Crime Writers of Canada sort of annual Bloody Words conference held in Victoria in 2011, I cornered Deverell and asked him a burning question that a seasoned, successful writer would likely have useful insight into: have you ever written a significant portion of a book, only to determine the story turns out not be any good and abandoned the whole thing?
Bill's answer: No. He undertakes so much prepatory work, research, detailed outlining and scene building before he starts the actual writing that he would have identified those issues long in advance of having written anything of significant length. By the time all of that early work is done, he's well prepared to craft the actual writing of the novel.
Damn it. Trust a lawyer to be prepared to do all that careful work in advance. I was starting to relate to the title of his book.
It probably comes as no surprise that the reason I was asking the question is I was in the middle of serious nagging doubts about the story on which I was currently working. That story: W3.doc. Here we are, two and a half years later and those doubts have re-surfaced. There's probably a way to determine at what point in the story I was when I asked Bill the question. But honestly it's probably not all that long ago, story wise. The story that would write itself has been a long time in the making.
You may recall that when I returned from Europe in the summer I had experienced a bit of a story re-birth, taking to crafting the story by pen on forty or so handwritten pages while we traveled in the Mediterranean. That burst of productivity, coupled with resurgence in my understanding of where the story was taking me, ground to a halt almost as quickly as the vacation did. While I continued my weekly musings here, the level of productivity at W3.doc dwindled to a few sentences here and there.
And Doubt came back.
As I've continued to plod ever so slowly at the manuscript, I have experienced conflicting inner arguments: am I stubbornly sticking to a flawed story because I'm more than thirty thousand words into it and abandoning ship now would seem a waste of these years I've invested all this thought, if not as much as effort as I could have? Or is the story fine but my…ahem…literary laziness preventing me from the elements of discovery that the writing process itself often provides?
I admit there have been times I've been ready to toss the beast and move on to the next story that is just itching to be written - in fact two of them that are percolating in my head right now. On the other hand, starting from scratch now makes the potential gap between W3.doc and Last Dance all that much greater - and the possibility of not getting the next book published seems to increase.
Unless W3.doc is an unworkable piece of trash.
You see the fights I have with myself? Inside my head can be an unpleasant arena in which to be a spectator.
Fortunately, I've had another epiphany of sorts. I know I've had quite a few of those lately but I'm really trying not to make them a weekly event. Part of my struggle with the underlying premise of W3.doc is that the nature of the crime writing is a marked departure from Deadly Lessons and Last Dance in that it really isn't a 'Who dunnit.' In fact, so far, it's really clear 'Who dunnit'; what's not clear is what was done. And that's kind of a different sub-genre, really. And I think I'm finally starting to embrace it.
Thus, W3.doc will soldier on (remember that - when you read the book you'll laugh).
Next week: embracing the personal life of the protagonist
Sidebar: last week I talked about New Year's resolution: 20 minutes a day. So far, my OCD tendencies are satisfied with all the 'X's' on my calendar. And I've been averaging around 600 words each day. That means I've written more of W3.doc in the first eight days of 2014 than I have since school started in September. Soldier on!