In the grand scheme of things, I had hoped, planned, and expected to be deep into Draft 3 of The Novel by this time of the year. I’ve had the manuscript back from my critique partners since early May. I figured that by now, I’d be well on my way to addressing and incorporating their feedback.
Instead, I am paralyzed. I am, as the title says, stuck between a rock and a hard place, and I have no idea which way to go. The problem is, in a way, one of my own making.
See, in my novel, I created my own culture for my characters instead of using a real-world one.*** I did this for one specific reason: creating my own culture gave me the freedom to create a society that fit the needs of the story. If I used an existing culture, it would have put constraints on the story. I would have to change certain elements of the story to fit the culture. To me, the story was the most important factor. Now that decision is biting me in the behind.
The first path is the one I’m on. Keep the culture I’ve created and build it out per the feedback I’ve gotten. It sounds like the easiest path, but as I started to tread it, it proved to be rocky, steep, and in some places, blocked by fallen trees. Some suggestions are easy to incorporate. Other feedback takes more thought and effort and shuffling of scenes. Then there’s the feedback that I know makes sense and would vastly improve the story but have absolutely no idea how to fit it in. I’ve spent hours reading and rereading these type of comments and the scenes they address and have come up with whatever is worse than a blank.
The Hard Place
The gate to path two opened when I was working on Draft 2. At that time, I slammed it shut. That was not a path I wanted to go down. Now the gate is swinging open again. Path Two—the Hard Place—is to re-research and then completely restructure and rewrite the entire novel to use a real-world culture. This is the path that a couple of my critique partners are pressuring me to take, and pressured is exactly how I feel. I see their point: a real-world culture would provide concrete details easily accessible by the reader. Should the reader want to know more about said culture, the information would be a Google search away.
But I’m resistant to this path for two reasons. The first is my original reason: using a real-world culture would put handcuffs on my story. If not handcuffs, than at least require radical changes. I’ve done some preliminary research into two likely real-world cultures and to adapt my story to fit them, I’d have to change some important elements. I can see how it would work, but it would be a very different story. I LOVE my story. It’s the story I wanted (and still want) to tell. I want to make the story better, improve the context of it, not change it to something else.
The second reason is far more practical. Researching from the ground up takes time. LOTS of time. And resources. The preliminary research I’ve done has shown me that to get all the information I need would require a research effort that equals, if not exceeds, what I put in to my Master’s thesis. Then there’s the time it would take to rewrite the novel. And it get the new version critiqued again. Which means instead of being ready to shop around this novel in a few months, I’ll be spending another year or more (likely more) starting over from basically scratch.
Both options—the Rock and the Hard Place—are overwhelming. I’m so overwhelmed that I’m doing the one thing a writer is not supposed to do: I’ve stopped writing.**** I started The New Novel, thinking it would help me break through, but the paralysis from The Novel seems to have paralyzed me there, too. I can’t get past page 5.
And all this is messing with my head and my confidence as a writer. I know writers who churn out thousands of words a day on their novels. (I hate them.) I know others who produce hundreds of words a day. I used to be one of them. But now that I’m not writing, how can I call myself a writer?
And getting sucked into that whirlpool only makes the paralysis worse.
Where’s Sidney Freedman when I need him? *****
***Which isn’t to say I made up the culture out of whole cloth or that I’m against research or using elements of real-world cultures. I’ve done both in The Novel. I cherry-picked elements of different cultures to create the one I wanted, and I can tell anyone exactly which bit came from where. I also made up elements when I couldn’t find a satisfactory alternative in my research.
****By “stopped writing,” I mean “stopped working on The Novel.” I still write every day. I write in my journal and I write what my clients hired me to write. But that’s not the same, or as satisfying, as working on The Novel.
*****If you don’t know who Sidney Freedman is, we may need to reconsider our friendship. He’s only the coolest shrink ever created: