Last week I blogged about the difficulties I had experienced writing my YA novel The Tree Of Rebels. I was just about to dive into what I hoped would be the final edit of the book, and I was looking back on the struggles I’d had so far. There was more than one issue, but in last week’s post I was examining the difficulties of getting to know your characters. I was trying to figure out what had been bothering me about this particular novel, which had not bothered me so much in my others. At least I now felt like I knew my main character Lissie Turner better, properly, finally. So I could begin…
I’m a few days in now, and I have to report that the struggles remain. Not necessarily with the character, but with something just not being right. I have tried to think back to the final drafts of my other books. Did I feel the same about them? Is this all completely normal? It begs the question, how do you even know if it is the final draft? I guess I feel I have already done so many drafts and sent the book out to beta readers, amended it, let it sit and stew, and now know, or at least think I know, how to finally make it work. So it feels like the final draft…or is it more like the last chance?
Because over the last few days I have been plagued by the feeling that something is just not right. I thought it was the characters, and not knowing them as well as I wanted to, but now I think it is more than that. The most frustrating thing is not being able to quite put my finger on whatever it is! And how do I know if this is the book telling me something is wrong, something does not work here, or if it is simply, normal writers self doubt? Because lets face it, writers are swimming in self doubt the majority of the time! You kind of get used to it. You learn to shut it up, push it aside and keep going.
My question is; how do you know whether you are meant to keep going? How do you know whether the doubts you are feeling are justified? I mean, that it really is a massive turd of a book that no one in the world will ever want to read?
I think my issue with this book is how different it has always felt to the other books, and there are several reasons for this. So it might do me some good to clarify them right here.
1) Firstly it’s set in a dystopian future, and I have never set a book in the future before. I have used the past and the present, but never a future made up by yours truly. I guess this means I am winging it a lot more than I would be ordinarily. I have had to make up an entire world, a civilisation, a back story as to what has led to this, and so on. In theory, this was not a problem, because for the first time ever, I got the idea for the plot before I heard the characters talk to me. Which leads me neatly to my second issue.
2) I got the idea for the plot first. And that never happens to me. Ever. Like I have said before, it’s the people that fill my head. They come with stories, so it is easy for me. I just do what they say. I just offload for them. But this time, I got an idea. What if in the future Nature is banned? What if everything you need to survive is kept under massive domes and delivered to you when you need it? What if, after endless wars, a tiny amount of humans inhabit the earth, and because there is no more war, and no more fear, they are very, very grateful for the lives they have…What if a young girl who was born into this world one day finds an apple tree outside of the domes? Anyway, without giving too much away, the idea stuck and grew and grew and eventually I had to start writing it. But I didn’t really want to. I will explain why in point 3.
3)I wanted to write a book that would impress my daughters. This has never happened to me before either, because I have always written for me, myself and I. That was how it all began. I wrote the stories I wanted to read. I created the characters I wished were real. This was different, and very new, and scary. I have two daughters. One is an avid reader, who devours YA and dystopia at an impossible rate. The other is a reluctant reader unless it is Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I wanted to lure them in, force them to turn the pages and show them what I could do. I now think this was a big, big mistake! They like the book, what they have read of it anyway, but I don’t think they love it. And I think knowing I was writing for an audience has haunted me all the way through. I’ve felt like someone has been watching over my shoulder. This is the first time I have decided upon the audience before writing the book…and I am not sure it works for me.
4) There was another reason I didn’t want to write the book. Well, a few. It was outside of my comfort zone, I knew I would have to research a lot of stuff, which I am happy to admit is not my strong point or my favourite part of writing, and I already had another book chomping at the bit, wanting to jump the queue. That book was Elliot Pie, which, if you follow this blog, you will know I finished the first draft of just a few weeks ago. I had only just started The Tree Of Rebels when Elliot tried to jump the queue. Now, as tempting as it is, I don’t let them do this. They all have to wait their turn, although they do get note books and they do get little bits written down and they do get thought about constantly! So, Elliot. Once I had him, I wanted to write his story. And I think that made things harder with this book.
5)Well, point 5 kind of sums up all the above. This book was a challenge. This book happened in a very different way to all of my others. This book scared me. This book confused me. I felt impatient with it, reluctant to do it, and constantly had this niggling little voice telling me that it was not right. It’s a fantasy, right? Almost a sci-fi, and that’s not my genre, that’s not my niche. My thing is realism, down to earth, gritty, edgy, a bit dark, that kind of thing.
Now that I know all of this and can admit it here to you, the question remains, what do I do about it? Keep going with the final draft and see what happens? Hope the self-doubts will pass, and some genuine love and appreciation will return for this novel? It has happened before. As with all my books, when I am writing them I tend to think they are rubbish, and it is only when I am re-reading bits that I smile and think hey, this isn’t too bad! This is better than I thought it was! And that has definitely happened enough with this book…even in the last few days!
Luckily for me I was talking to my 13 year old avid reader about it this morning and she made several wonderful points. She reminded me that the beginning of the book cannot be as dark and edgy as I intend to make it this time around, as in the beginning Lissie does not know anything is wrong with her world. Sure, things are suggested to the reader, but on the surface, for the reader and for Lissie, this really is a perfect, easy to live in society. Things do start to get darker very quickly, as things start to unravel and there is a fast pace, as this is by far my shortest book. I had forgotten this, and she was right. She also reminded me that my other books are concerned with ‘real-life’ problems ie eating disorders, bullies, evil step-fathers and missing mothers. The Tree Of Rebels does have some family drama, of course it does. In fact you could also describe it as coming of age as Lissie makes her journey, but it does not contain the same gritty subjects I usually handle. Again, she was right. It’s just different.
I’ve made a few decisions and I will blog again when I have them clearer in my head. Hopefully by the time I post again I will be feeling better about this book. I will have listened to the doubts, dealt with them and recognised that there is nothing wrong with The Tree Of rebels…it’s just different. At least for me!