Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Sailing Venus: Back in the saddle

My last blog entry on Sailing Venus, my perpetually in-progress science fiction novel, came on Feb. 13, 2018. I was struggling with Chapter 14, having just completed Chapter 13. My notoriously slow production had slowed to a crawl, even for me. Over the next few months, I squeezed out Chapter 15 and then 16, which is where the wheels fell off. I'm not sure when I walked away from the book. The summer of 2018 is as good a guess as any, although it could've happened as early as April. Regardless, Chapter 16, while technically a solid piece of writing, was a failure when it came to narrative. My writing group at the time (before it subsequently broke up) sensed it. I sensed it. But I couldn't figure out the problem. In hindsight, there's a lot of what I call "running in place" going on, in which the character talk and act in ways which creates the sense of motion, but doesn't actually advance the plot anywhere. I didn't have writer's block, but writing had become an unpleasant experience. So I decided to set the book aside and get a little distance, in hopes a solution would become clear.

That ""little distance" stretched all the way through 2019, 2020 and into 2021. In that span, I did almost no fiction writing. At the end of 2020 Don Webb approached me with a short story collaboration, which turned out to be a lot of fun and resulted in my first piece of completed fiction since 2011 (yikes!). After that I revisited the first draft of a short story I'd originally written circa 2009-2010 that desperately needed a rewrite. I completed said rewrite in the spring and have to say I'm happy with the final product (now, would that some editor be just as happy with it). Each time, I'd hoped that would be the spark that jump-started my creative juices and prompted me to resume work on Sailing Venus. Alas, that was not to be.

Fast forward to Oct. 22--exactly one month ago, as the crow flies. I'm not sure what the impetus was, but I printed out my manuscript, all 16 chapters, and sat down to read my narrative from start to finish. Some parts were quite good. Other parts were embarassing. Other had a clear "fix this in the second draft" vibe going on. Other parts had abrupt changes that didn't mesh with what had come before, a result of my incorporating insightful feedback from my writers group. But the long and short of it was that I felt I had a still-living, if incomplete novel on my hands.

It took maybe a week, off and on, to read through the manuscript. Then it took a couple of days to come to grips with the fact that Chapter 16 had to be axed and rewritten completely. But there was a section of Chapter 16 that I could see actually belonged in Chapter 15, so there was a rewrite there to get things started. And then I turned my attention to the new Chapter 16. I don't know why I've started writing again. Maybe it was just time. Maybe it was shame due to the fact that several friends have written and published several novels over the past three years whereas I have produced zilch. Maybe it the impending sense of my own mortality. I dunno. The important thing is that I'm writing again.

Don't get the idea that it's coming easily this time around. Oh, no. Writing to me has become akin to trying to wade upstream in a river of molasses. The only thing more unpleasant are the stories in my head clamoring to get out. The only way I can quiet them is to purge them onto the page. Lovely image, that.

Chapter 16 came in fits and starts. I believe the most I managed to write on it any one day was 400 words. Some days I barely managed 200. But progress, no matter how incremental, is still progress. I wrote a pivotal scene in the book, one that I've had the idea for dating back more than a decade. It was emotionally difficult, as well as technically difficult from a writing standpoint. I'm not sure if it works. I'm not sure I pulled it off. Maybe that's why the book withered on me way back when--I just wasn't ready to deal with this scene. That sounds like a cop-out to me, though. Pop psychology claptrap to provide a convenient excuse. More likely my subconcious knew the scene needed to come now, whereas I thought it still lay several chapters into the future. I'll probably never know. Writing is messy that way.

But here I am now, with Chapter 16--almost 4,000 words--completed exactly one month after I dusted off the old manuscript and announced the resumption of writing. That's not great, but it's better than I had been managing. The uncharted territory of Chapter 17 lies before me. At my current chapter-a-month production rate, by this time next year I may have the damn book finished. Here's a taste of tonight's work:


Erica looked up at Sigfried, who'd returned to his perch on the console. He watched her, ears drooping, concern in his eyes.

"I, um, I'm not good with ambiguity," he said. "I prefer the obvious. Obvious I can roll with. 'Read the room,' they say. I can do that, sure. That's why I've been quiet for so long. I'm not stupid, you know. But there's something you should know, even if the timing's bad. I think I'd know what to do if the Aye hadn't deleted all of my memories, but I can't be sure. I'm afraid I'll make the wrong decision, whatever I do."

"Sigfried," Erica said wearily, "just spit it out already."

"The clock just ticked over to 12:01. That's A.M. It's now tomorrow. Your birthday." Sigfried sat up with a strained smile, waving his forelegs in the air. "Happy birthday!"

Erica bowed her head and sobbed.
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